Cajundome Director Greg Davis used the occasion of Monday’s federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to ask the City-Parish Council to discuss next month removing the monument to Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton from its place of prominence at a gateway to Downtown Lafayette.
Davis tells The IND the issue is deeply personal.
“My motiviation is for my grandchildren,” he says. “I want them to be in a community where we’re showing steady improvement in race relations.”
Removing the Jim Crow-era monument, he argues, is a step in that direction.
At a December meeting about renovating the newly named Place Mouton — the triangular public space where the Mouton monument resides in front of the old City Hall at the Jefferson-Lee intersection — Davis spoke eloquently about his parents growing up under Jim Crow and why the monument is offensive to him as a black citizen. A group called “Why Alfred,” members of which also attended that December meeting with protest signs, has established a Facebook page and is also lobbying for moving the statue to another less-prominent location.
Davis’ Monday letter to council Chairman Jay Castille and the other eight members of the panel echoes his comments at the December meeting:
I am requesting that the Lafayette Consolidated Council place on its February 23rd agenda a discussion of the General Alfred Mouton Monument. I understand that this is the appropriate time for this item since the third meeting of each month is for discussion items.
This is a most appropriate day to send you this request, the day we celebrate the greatest civil rights leader of all time, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.
I attended the Downtown Development Authority’s community discussion that took place before Christmas. They asked for feedback on their plans to improve the area around the monument. Some citizens want the monument moved before the improvements are done.
I and a representative of the group Why Alfred met with the DDA board on January 7th. We asked that they not break ground until we have the opportunity to meet with the LCG Council to discuss the removal of the monument. They informed us that ground breaking will not occur in the immediate future, so there is time to approach the LCG Council before the project starts.
Many citizens view the General Alfred Mouton statue as a confederate monument that glorifies the efforts to preserve the institution of slavery, a profound time in our history when millions of enslaved Americans suffered a brutal period of human degradation. Had General Mouton and his confederacy been victorious, this period would not have ended in 1865.
The monument was erected in 1922 at the height of Jim Crow, a newly developed system of racial oppression. After losing the ability to preserve slavery, former confederate soldiers formed vigilante groups that merged into the Ku Klux Klan. After the Civil War, African Americans gained voting rights and civil liberties for the first time. General Mouton’s confederate associates could not accept the fulfillment of a dream by former slaves to finally have racial equality, human rights and human dignity.
Jim Crow is very personal to me. My parents who are still living were born in the 1920’s. They lived in Bogalusa in the early 1960’s. As a young person, I remember the terror of the Klan and the fear of what they might do to my father. He was not afraid of the Klan and demanded respect and human dignity. He was not Jim Crow compliant. I remember the pervasiveness of Jim Crow in every segment of ordinary life that drilled in me and my siblings the concept of white supremacy and therefore black inferiority. I was conditioned to hate myself simply because of the color of my skin. I actually thought that people like me were less than human. Racism is that sick.
The DDA improvement is designed to make the space around the monument more inviting and usable. Many citizens will not use this space with the monument as its centerpiece. It should be taken down and moved to a museum before the improvements are done.
I hope that you will place this on your February 23rd agenda for discussion. You can expect a follow up email from the Why Alfred group. They will also request that it be an agenda item on February 23rd. I have copied their representatives on this email. This is time sensitive since DDA is moving forward with the project. We would like this discussion item to occur before ground breaking.
Thanks for your consideration.