The battle lines were drawn Tuesday in a festering dispute over whether to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton from his prominent post at the corner of Jefferson Street and Lee Avenue in downtown Lafayette.
More than 100 residents, including Moutons both for and against the move, packed into the City-Parish Council auditorium in a discussion that was cordial but which made clear there seemed to be little middle ground.
One group was steadfast in arguing the general should stand his ground, while opponents want the statue gone, perhaps moved to the nearby Alexandre Mouton House, a museum in a house built by the general’s grandfather.
There is no current proposal to move the monument, but the council on Tuesday opened the floor to hear public comment on the issue.
As of 10 p.m., residents were still addressing the council, debating whether the Mouton statue represents heritage or hate.
Cajundome Director Greg Davis, who wrote a letter to the council asking for a public meeting on moving the statue, said he was, at first, reluctant to get involved.
“I felt the gravity of the subject, and I knew it was going to be quite emotional on both sides,” Davis said.
Davis, who is black, told council members he feels the Mouton statue represents a history of “great injustices” and brings to his mind his early life in a racist South: attending segregated schools, waiting at the back of the Catholic church for whites to finish communion, relegated to the balcony at the theater in downtown Lafayette, having to enter the doctor’s office through the back entrance.
“Every single aspect of ordinary daily life was something causing me to hate myself,” he said.
Davis and others said they believe the statue, erected in the 1920s, not only represents a painful past but sends the wrong signal to visitors and is a symbol that no longer represents Lafayette’s diverse community.
“I urge you all to be courageous and to set an example for the young people today and the generations that come after us. Please remember that our future is not carved in stone,” said Todd Mouton, a relative of the man honored by the monument.
Many opponents of moving the statue spoke of revisionist history and a slippery slope that could end with having to change street names and any and all historical references to the Confederacy.
Attorney Pat Briney talked of the “cancerous notion of political correctness.”
“This controversy is dividing us. It’s bad for us,” Briney said.
Supporters of keeping the statue also talked of the contributions Mouton and his family made to Lafayette. His grandfather is considered the city’s founder. His father was governor.
“Alfred Mouton was the son and grandson of the founders of this community,” said Miles Matt.
The local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy worked to install the statue in the 1920s, and that group, still in existence, has argued that an injunction blocks the city from moving the statue.
A judge signed the injunction after the group filed a lawsuit in 1980 to block the city from moving the monument to what at the time was a new city hall on University Avenue.
The city-parish attorney was expected to address the legal issue at the close of public comments Tuesday evening.
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.