The East Feliciana Police Jury will decide next week whether to uproot a statue of a Confederate soldier from the courthouse following a public hearing Tuesday that saw residents split on the issue.

At more than 30-feet-tall, the statue was built in 1909 as a tribute to Confederate soldiers and has towered in front of the parish’s antebellum courthouse, but has become a divisive public landmark in recent years.

Calls to remove the statue have intensified in the past several weeks amid protests that have erupted across the country and in Louisiana following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Residents supporting the statue's removal say it represents a bygone era in which Black people were enslaved and, after emancipation, still denied their civil rights. And it's especially problematic because it towers in front of the courthouse, they say.

“It’s ludicrous that we’re still debating whether this statue should come down,” said Tristen George, 21, who grew up in Clinton. 

Supporters of keeping the statue in place have argued the monument serves as a memorial site for families whose ancestors who died during the Civil War. Others expressed concerns removing it would also strip a part of the parish’s history.

“It’s a memorial to those who died [doing] something they believed in and ended up with no resting spot," said Bill Ford, of Jackson.

Parish leaders previously paused on taking any action on the proposal while they searched for a bigger venue to accommodate public turnout and maintain social distancing.

Others have suggested putting the proposal to a vote, but Police Juror Louis Kent said elected officials should have the final say.

The parish's homeland security director, Jody Moreau, had added the issue to the Police Jury's agenda two weeks ago, citing worries the statue may be targeted and toppled like in other cities across the country.

Mirroring a nationwide trend, discussions to remove the statue come as other cities and towns in Louisiana grapple with similar questions about statues, streets and other public landmarks with attachments to slavery and colonialism.

Officials in Iberville Parish recently voted to remove a similar statue in Plaquemine. East Baton Rouge Parish’s mayor-president plans to create a committee to review streets and other landmarks with ties to slavery.

Concerns about the statue in Clinton have arisen in the past, including a similar, and unsuccessful, attempt to remove the statue in 2016.

A few years later, lawyers representing Ronnie Anderson, a Black man charged with a gun offense, argued the statue is a "symbol of racial intolerance" while calling for his criminal case to be moved to another parish.

That change-of-venue request was denied, and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge upheld the lower court's decision in a 2-1 vote that split along racial lines among the panel's two White and one Black judges.

The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year.

Niles Haymer, who represented Anderson and spoke Tuesday evening, told police jurors the structure would be better placed in a museum or at the Confederate cemetery a few miles down the road in Clinton.

“It is a day of reckoning in America because we never dealt with the issue behind the monuments themselves,” he said. “Nobody can show me a monument to abolishing slavery in the Town of Clinton."

The police jury will vote on the proposal at its next meeting on July 6.

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