Nine hours into a marathon series of meetings that began Tuesday and ended in the early morning Wednesday, the Lafayette City Council voted unanimously to support the mayor-president's effort to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton from city property in downtown.
At 2 a.m. Wednesday, the council adopted a resolution of support requested by Mayor-President Josh Guillory before he heads to court in August.
The vote was met with a standing ovation from about a dozen residents who had been in attendance since 5 p.m. Tuesday, some of whom have been fighting more than four years to have the statue removed.
Guillory, on July 2, said he asked city-parish attorneys to research how the city might move the statue to a place, not on city property, where it could be displayed in the proper historical context.
Mouton, whose family donated land for creation of Lafayette, was a slave owner and Confederate general who died of wounds sustained in a Civil War battle. In 1922, during the Jim Crow era of Black suppression, the United Daughters of the Confederacy paid to create the statue and donated it to the city, which erected it at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Lee Avenue where the city hall was built.
In 1980, when city officials planned to move the statue to the new city hall, the United Daughters filed for an injunction to stop them. They reached an agreement with the city and a judge granted the Daughters a permanent injunction prohibiting the statue's relocation.
After city-parish officials in 2016 declined to tackle the removal because the United Daughters of the Confederacy threatened to sue, residents formed a group Move the Mindset which set about educating the community about Mouton's life and the statue's history as part of the Jim Crow era that touted White supremacy decades after the Conderacy lost the war.
Move the Mindset's president, Fred Prejean, and several members sued in 2019 to intervene in the 1980 United Daughters lawsuit in an attempt to free the city to remove the statue. A hearing on the lawsuit is set for Aug. 17.
"We have an opportunity as a community to heal, to right a wrong," Guillory said before the vote. "If you want to preserve history, do so, but without harming an entire class of people."
Guillory said he believes the judge is in a position to rule on the matter Aug. 17. City officials are working to find a permanent home for the statue, he said. It would be removed and stored in a safe place until then.
Councilman Andy Naquin said he grew up with Moutons and considered the statue as iconic, but admittedly did not know its history nor Alfred Mouton's history until recently. He thanked Prejean and Move the Mindset for pushing the matter in a respectful manner.
As Rick Swanson, a professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, spoke about Mouton's life as the owner of slaves -- men, women and children -- and of atrocities committed during that period by Mouton and others, Naquin, a Republican, asked the political party affiliation of Mouton. He was a Democrat, Swanson said, explaining that the party at that time bears no resemblance to the party of today.
Guillory, who also is Republican, addressed his fellow Republicans.
"To my white Republicans, you might have fear. But don’t let that fear drive you," Guillory said.
Removing the statue is not erasing history, he said, but provides an opportunity to teach history properly.
"Fear not this change, for this change is healthy," Guillory said. "This is a community that is healing."