Supporters of keeping the statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton at its prominent spot in downtown Lafayette say City-Parish Council members could face contempt of court for taking any action to move the monument.
The council is not considering any proposal to remove the Mouton statue, but a battle has been raging on social media, with camps split between the dueling Facebook pages “Why Alfred?” and “Why not Alfred?”
A group supporting removal is scheduled to address the council next week, but supporters of keeping the statue in place were out in force at Tuesday’s meeting — and they brought their attorney.
Lane Roy, who represents the General Alfred Mouton Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, told council members a 1980 injunction bars removal of the Mouton statue from city-owned property at the corner of Lee Avenue and Jefferson Street.
The injunction makes exceptions only for the sale of the property or for street improvements.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy worked to install the statue in the 1920s, and a judge signed the injunction after the group filed an lawsuit in 1980 to block the city from moving the monument to what at the time was a new city hall on University Avenue.
Attorneys for the city and the United Daughters of the Confederacy consented to the injunction, which in effect serves as a legal agreement.
“That agreement between the parties is binding,” Roy said, adding that council members could face criminal penalties for voting to move the statue in violation of the 1980 injunction.
Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said after the meeting he has not formed an opinion on the Mouton statue but is not concerned about any vote he might make on the issue.
“That’s a very, very vague interpretation of the law,” he said. “I thought that was negative.”
City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott said he is still researching the legal issues and will be prepared by next week to answer council questions about the implications.
Greg Davis, director of the Cajundome and an advocate of removing the statue, said the council can delve into the legalities after first deciding whether they think it is a good idea to pursue removal.
“The first question is whether the monument should be moved. That’s a question that has everything to do with a matter of principle,” said Davis, who was not at Tuesday’s council meeting but was reached by phone afterward.
Davis said even if the injunction ultimately bars removal of the statue, he would be proud that the council took a stand.
Davis, who supports placing the statue in a museum, said he and others seeking removal plan to attend next week’s council meeting.
Only those who want to see the statue stay put addressed the council on Tuesday.
Thirty people filled out public comment cards opposing removal but did not speak. Another 10 residents spoke to the council.
There have long been discussions across the South about the appropriateness of Confederate monuments, which critics say honor leaders who fought to protect slavery and represent a legacy of racism.
The issue came to the forefront last year when a white supremacist killed nine people in a South Carolina church in a tragedy that prompted many communities to reconsider Confederate symbols.
In New Orleans, the City Council has voted to remove three monuments to Confederate leaders and a fourth memorializing a white rebellion against the state’s post-Civil War Reconstruction government.
“But for the New Orleans situation, this issue would not be before the council and this mayor. It’s copycat stuff,” said James “Jimmy” Domengeaux, a prominent local lawyer.
He told council members on Tuesday that the Lafayette area never experienced the virulent strain of racism seen in other communities, and he doesn’t believe the history the Mouton statue represents should be wiped away.
“You can’t edit history. History is history, and that’s what it is,” Domengeaux said.