May 16, 2017 01:00 PM

HB71 unleashed a heated debate and a firestorm of criticism in Baton Rouge, but even if it becomes law, it will not likely affect Alfred Mouton's statue

A Shreveport representative's bill to require local voter approve removal of any local government attempt to remove a Confederate monument inflamed members of the House of Representatives on Monday, but what other effect the bill might have is not clear.

Even though the bill was co-authored by Lafayette Rep. Stuart Bishop, the bill will likely have no impact on the status of the Gen. Alfred Mouton statue that stands in front of the old Lafayette City Hall at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Lee Avenue.

Rep. Thomas Carmody's HB71 prompted the fiercest debate on the floor of the House this year, followed by a walkout by members of the Legislative Black Caucus following the vote passing the bill. While conservative and white supremacist websites made much of the vote, the chances of Carmody's bill becoming law appear remote with three weeks remaining in the session.

The bill will have no impact on New Orleans' decision to take down statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, P.G. Beauregard, and the obelisk which hailed the white supremacists who attempted to overthrow Louisiana's elected governor in what became known as the Battle of Liberty Place. Each of those statues, like the Mouton statue in Lafayette, was erected after the United States Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision made segregation the law of the land.

According to news reports, Carmody was the only person who spoke in support of his bill. No co-authors, including Bishop, took the floor.

The bill has to lay over in the Senate for three days before being assigned to a committee. An assignment could come by Thursday, but the committee would then have to schedule a hearing on it. If it makes it out of committee, it would have to wait an additional three days before it could come up for consideration. Opponents of the measure have a number of procedural maneuvers they could employ to delay consideration at each stop.

Istvan Berkeley, a UL Lafayette professor and member of Move the Mindset, says that Carmody's bill will have no effect on the Mouton statue even if it becomes law.

"The yahoos that ran the city back in the 1980s entered into a permanent injunction with the local branch of the United Daughters of the Confederacy back then, essentially making the statue very difficult to remove," Berkeley tells The Independent. Berkeley says he researched the legal status of the statue for a report to the Move the Mindset group last year.

Lafayette attorney Lane Roy, representing those who support keeping the statue in its present location, reminded members of the City-Parish Council of that injunction when, in 2015, a grassroots movement to remove the statue sprang up. LCG attorney Paul Escott confirmed the validity of the injunction in an opinion he presented the council two weeks later.

The Independent contacted Roy and Escott for comment on HB71 but neither had responded at press time.

The Independent also tried to contact the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The number we were able to find was for the Richmond, Va., home office of the organization. The receptionist who answered the phone says the organization does not currently have an active chapter in Lafayette. She asked that questions regarding HB71 be submitted via email. The organization has not responded to the question as of press time.

"Mouton was not so much a hero as he was a thug," Berkeley says. "He wasn't a particularly nice fellow and he was a racist. So, essentially we appear to be stuck with this symbol of racism in the middle of our city. It's embarrassing."

Berkeley adds that he's apologized for the prominent display of the Mouton statue to family and friends who've visited Lafayette over the years.

Margaret Oelkers West, also a member of Move the Mindset, says does not believe HB71 would have an immediate impact on the Mouton statue in Lafayette because the public does not understand the full context of the statue's history.

"Our group's work is not done," West says. "We've launched a public education campaign consisting of presentations, documentary showings, book readings and other activities that we feel, over time, will help change people's awareness of that statue and its history."

West adds that she does not believe the Legislature should be intervening in what are essentially local decisions.

Fred Prejean, one of the founders of Move the Mindset, says Mouton's history shows that he is not worthy of being honored by a statue in such a public place.

"It is factually documented that Alfred Mouton commanded a violent vigilante committee that intimidated, harassed and inflicted physical and mental anguish upon white people," Prejean says. "He owned slaves, and fought to maintain slavery, supported forced separation of black families, breeding of slaves, rape and pedophilia."

"While Alfred Mouton is unfortunately part of Lafayette's history, he is not a man to be honored nor praised as part of one's ancestry," Prejean continues. "He has earned the right to be considered a part of Lafayette's dark history."

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