It could be argued that the historical significance of the Henry Watkins Allen monument in Port Allen lies in the woman who created it: Angela Gregory.
A sculptor of extraordinary talent, Gregory made her name in the art world during a time when the field was dominated by men.
Her work graces the State Capitol, a district courthouse and university campuses. She also crafted a series of Black sculptures, the most well-known of which is the bust of a young woman, La Belle Augustine, and her Plantation Madonna, depicts a plantation worker with her children.
Dozens of protesters marched near a busy Port Allen thoroughfare Sunday, waving signs and chanting "Take Henry down!" as they called for the r…
But now some of her work, including that of the Allen statue, the New Orleans' monument to Bienville and a bust of John McDonogh in the Crescent City, has come under fire during this summer of racial unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Protesters have toppled the Duncan Plaza statue of McDonogh, a slave owner, tossing it into the shallow water along the Mississippi River's bank. Calls also have been made to remove the monument of Bienville for his treatment of Indigenous people and the statue of Allen, a brigadier general in the Confederate army.
In Port Allen, the West Baton Rouge Parish Council rejected the idea of moving Allen's statue to the local museum, voting to leave it at its location across from the courthouse.
In a vote that straddled racial lines, a split West Baton Rouge Parish Council batted down a proposal to uproot a statue of Louisiana’s last C…
Does the fact that Gregory, who died in 1990 at age 86, created this public sculpture make it something more than a tribute to a Confederate officer and slave owner?
Yes, said Angelique Bergeron, director of the West Baton Rouge Museum. But, she added, its story could better be told at the museum.
"We could tell the whole story in context," Bergeron said. "We don't want to forget the past; we want to look honestly at the past."
In addition to his service to the Confederacy, Allen served as Louisiana's 17th governor late in the Civil War. He was wounded in the face at the Battle of Shiloh, and his leg was shattered in the Battle of Baton Rouge.
"This statue wasn't mass-produced like so many Confederate monuments," Bergeron said. "It's an Angela Gregory, and her artistic representation of him has a lot more to say. He's seated and pensive. He's holding his hand to his face, where he received the facial injury, and he's sitting down, holding his cane because of his leg injury."
Former museum director Julie Rose proposed in 2015 that the statue be moved those few blocks to the museum.
"The way that Angela Gregory depicted him makes the Allen monument very valuable and opens it up for questions," said Rose, author of "Interpreting Difficult History at Museums and Historic Sites." "Angela Gregory didn't choose a powerful depiction. She chose a deflated man."
The Allen monument was erected in 1962, commissioned by the West Baton Rouge Civic and Garden Club with $15,000 from the state. Allen, for whom the city is named, owned Allendale Sugar Plantation and the many slaves who worked there. After the Civil War, he escaped to Mexico City, where he died at age 45 in 1866.
Following a protest at the Allen statue, the Port Allen City Council recommended it be moved to the museum.
"To those he enslaved for many years, he was no hero," Clerice Lacy Carter, a Port Allen resident who's led recent calls for the statue's removal told council members. "The museum would be a better place to tell his story, the good, the bad and the ugly."
However, the West Baton Rouge Parish Council, which has authority over the statue, rejected the idea.
Bergeron said the West Baton Rouge Museum has struggled with interpreting the difficult history of slavery since the first Allendale slave cabin was moved to its Court Street grounds in 1976.
"But the directors who came before me started us on a path of researching and telling the full and compelling story of our rich historical and cultural heritage," she said. "Louisiana’s complex history does not easily fit into the box of the national narrative. Despite the popular opinion of others, Louisiana has always been ahead of the curve."
She thinks the Allen monument could be Gregory's nod to Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, which points to her training in Paris in the 1920s. Gregory learned her craft from the best living sculptor of the day, Antoine Bourdelle, who had studied and worked with Rodin.
A native of New Orleans, Gregory attended Newcomb College, then studied for two years with Bourdelle. She returned to New Orleans and at age 25, received her first commission: the pelicans on the facade of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court building.
She was commissioned in the 1930s to sculpt eight of the 22 portraits of people important in Louisiana history on the façade of the State Capitol, as well as the brass pelicans on the circular railing in the center of the capitol's Memorial Hall.
At the beginning of World War II, Gregory worked as an assistant architectural engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans designing camouflage. She also created bas-relief murals for the Louisiana National Bank in Baton Rouge, now The Gregory restaurant in the Watermark Hotel on Third Street.
Angela Gregory's sculptures and murals can be found throughout Baton Rouge. You only need to look up to find some of them.
Then came a commission from the Louisiana Purchase Sesquicentennial Commission for the Bienville monument depicting New Orleans' founder, Jean-Baptiste Le Monye, Sieur de Bienville.
"Angela did meticulous research on all of her works," said Nancy L. Penrose, author of "A Dream and a Chisel: Louisiana Sculptor Angela Gregory, 1925-28. "She spent five years researching the Bienville monument, and she did it with the sources available to her at the time."
Cast in Paris, the 26-foot bronze monument was erected in 1955 in Bienville Plaza near the Union Passenger Terminal and later moved to a small park near the French Quarter.
On Bienville's left is Father Athanase Douay, the monk who accompanied the explorer on his expedition. On his right is a Native American.
"This is where artistic merit comes in," Penrose said. "There has to be a way to tell the story, maybe with a plaque with Bienville's biography on the monument."
In June, a small group of protesters removed a bust of McDonogh, a slave owner and educational philanthropist, and tossed it in the Mississippi River. The bust has since been recovered, but the city hasn't returned it to the park across from City Hall.
Malcolm Suber, one of the organizers of Take 'Em Down NOLA, said McDonogh's philanthropy cannot be separated from his time as a slave owner.
"He got his wealth directly from the exploitation of the African people," he said.
Penrose said it was painful to see photos of the toppled McDonogh monument, because it was one of Gregory's works.
"But I understand why it happened," she said. "I've been doing a lot of thinking about what should be done with these monuments that are so hurtful in many ways, and in this regard, they're unfinished, because they don't tell the whole stories about the men in them."