Nearly 200 protesters marched through the streets of Clinton on Monday, chanting "Black Lives Matter" and ending their demonstration at the foot of the parish courthouse, where they stood in the shadow of a towering memorial erected in 1909 as a "tribute of love" to Confederate soldiers. 

Just half a mile away, another gathering of residents crowded into East Feliciana's Police Jury building, ready to offer their public comments on why the statue should remain at its current perch.

The issue was placed on the Police Jury's agenda by Joseph Moreau, the parish's director of homeland security, who said, given the toppling of similar monuments elsewhere, he believed there was "a viable threat against the statue."

That discussion was ultimately deferred and rescheduled, tentatively for next Tuesday or Thursday, to allow parish officials to find a venue large enough to accommodate the turnout while maintaining social distancing. 

Organizers of Monday's protest said their march had nothing to do with the town's statue, and was instead focused on registering voters for the upcoming election. 

“We are not here because of that statue," said the Rev. Burnett King, organizer and president of the East Feliciana Ministers Conference. “We came to promote solidarity and peace."

Still, the statue rankled some protesters. 

“The courthouse is supposed to be a place of justice,” said Gloria Smith King, 72. “To have a Confederate statue there symbolizes what used to be, not what is.”

To King, who has spent her life in East Feliciana and grew up in its segregated school system, the memorial is a symbol of a bygone era in which African Americans were denied their civil rights. 

"They don't want to let go of the past," echoed Ruby Hollins King, Gloria King's sister-in-law. 

Across town, Tamara Michael, 60, said the statue was erected to honor the hundreds of thousands of men who died during the Civil War, a remembrance of lives lost.

The monument is the only tombstone marker some families have of their ancestors who died on the battlefield, said Randy Jarreau, head of Louisiana's division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

"If you take it down, you then run the risk of forgetting what went on," Jarreau said. "This is the only remembrance their family had."

Others in attendance proposed a compromise, like adding an additional statue instead of removing the existing one. 

"What we've got to do is meet halfway," said Jim Hirtzler, 72, who suggested the parish put up a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. beside the existing memorial. "That way they have their freedom man and we have our heritage."

Freelance writer Frances Y. Spencer contributed to this report.


Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater