About 15 Lafayette residents joined by Councilman Pat Lewis, who represents the Downtown district, gathered in a conference room at City Hall Monday evening for an ongoing discussion on relocating the monument to Confederate Brig. Gen. Alfred Mouton, which stands at the Jefferson-Lee intersection in front of the Old City Hall.
Many of these same folks spoke before the City-Parish Council in February during a public discussion segment of that night’s council meeting devoted to moving the monument from its present perch to the nearby Mouton House museum, the former home of Gen. Mouton’s father, former Louisiana Gov. Alexandre Mouton. The majority of residents who spoke that evening before the council were opposed to doing anything with the monument, and there’s been no move by the nine-person Council to address the issue through ordinance — a fact not lost on Monday’s attendees.
“I believe that eventually there will be a will of this community, and eventually there will be a majority in this town, and that one day there will be a vote and it will be the will of this community to remove that monument — I think ultimately that’s going to happen,” said Cajundome Director Greg Davis, a vocal proponent of moving the monument. “Now that we don’t have five votes, we will now be in the education period.”
Davis suggested, and many members were open to, conducting public education efforts in conjunction with the monthly Second Saturday ArtWalk Downtown. Others threw in ideas such as partnering with other nonprofits or an entity like Whitney Plantation in St. John Parish, which a couple of years ago re-purposed itself under new ownership as a museum devoted to slavery in the antebellum South.
Group members briefly discussed legal questions such as the permanent injunction against removing the monument obtained in 1980 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Member Mike Stagg, a local environmental activist, suggested that the compact made between the city and UDC is no longer valid, post-consolidation, since the city of Lafayette no longer exists as a legal entity.
“I’m very concerned by it and I’d like to see something done with it,” Councilman Lewis said of the monument.
The Mouton monument was erected in 1922 at the height of the Jim Crow era by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an apologist group that since its inception shortly after the Civil War has attempted to gloss over the root cause of the conflict — slavery — and build a mythology around gallant sons of the South fighting for “states’ rights” and against Union trade tariffs and an invading Yankee army.
Others at Monday’s meeting discussed the possibility of erecting a second monument adjacent to the Mouton monument to honor an African American, or to place interpretive plaques near the Mouton monument to add context to passive adulation. Stagg suggested a monument to Mervin Harmon, the first black elected to public office in Lafayette and a former member of the Tuskegee Airman. But others worried that simply adding a second monument or interpretive panel to the plaza would ultimately defeat the group’s overriding purpose: moving the monument to the nearby museum.
Lafayette joined with communities across the Deep South in a public discussion over the role of Confederate monuments following the murders of nine parishioners at a church in Charleston, S.C., last summer.
Many here in the Hub City assumed, this writer included, that after the February public discussion before the City-Parish Council the issue would simply go away. But it hasn’t. Those in attendance Monday acknowledged that it will be years before Lafayette’s monument to white supremacy is relocated, but that it’s a worthy cause.
“I don’t see that translating to five votes the next year or the year after,” Davis observed. “It might take five years, 10 years — but at least people are being educated.”
Read more about the Mouton monument in our February cover story, "A Monumental Question.”
For more on that February public discussion before the City-Parish Council, check out “White privilege — set in stone.”