Dozens of protesters marched near a busy Port Allen thoroughfare Sunday, waving signs and chanting "Take Henry down!" as they called for the removal of a statue of Henry Watkins Allen, the Confederate Louisiana governor and military general.

Activists say the statue memorializing Allen, a slave owner who served as Louisiana's 17th governor and died in exile after the Civil War in Mexico, is a painful reminder of slavery and of the racial injustices that have endured since abolition. As the protesters peacefully marched and gathered around the 1960s-built statue, they vowed to continue coming back until it's gone.

"A defeated power and a traitor, we're going to call him what he is," organizer Shelton Berry told the group of about 60 people gathered at the statue across from the parish courthouse. "He is not a hero."

Allen was elected governor of Louisiana in 1863 and was the last to serve the state until the end of Reconstruction. He also favored continued military resistance after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender, according to state records.

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Port Allen itself bears his name: The town's original name, La Ville de St. Michel, was changed some 150 years ago.

The statue's removal would require approval from the West Baton Rouge Parish Council, which has jurisdiction of the monument that sits across from the parish courthouse, between a library and government offices.

Port Allen Mayor Richard Lee said he plans to write a resolution to bring before the West Baton Rouge Parish Council to remove the statue. While speaking to the gathering crowd, Lee said he understands the "the hurt and pain the monument represents."

"We cannot change history, but we can remove the pain and hurt by placing this statue in the West Baton Rouge Parish Museum where it belongs," he said.

The demonstration was one of several recent pushes in Louisiana and the nation to remove Confederate- and Colonial-era figures with ties to slavery following the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, last month in Minneapolis.

His death has spurred a reckoning on police brutality and racial injustice after Floyd was seen on a widely shared video gasping for breath as a White officer pressed his knee into the back of a prone, handcuffed Floyd for nearly 8 minutes.

West Baton Rouge Parish has also seen recent tumult between the community and law enforcement following the death of Josef Richardson, who was fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy during a raid of the Port Allen man's motel room.

Baton Rouge attorney Ron Haley Jr., who is representing Richardson's family in a wrongful-death lawsuit, told demonstrators Sunday that Confederate-era symbols on government grounds and near courthouses are especially problematic because of systemic racism.

"It makes it OK for a Josef Richardson to happen because they know there isn't going to be a prosecution in this courthouse," Haley said.

Earlier this month, protesters in New Orleans tore down the bust of former slave owner John McDonogh at a park and rolled it into the Mississippi River. In Plaquemine, the Iberville Parish Council recently approved the removal of a century-old Confederate statue near the old courthouse. 

The East Feliciana Parish Police Jury this week will hold a meeting to discuss the fate of a similar statue in front of the courthouse in Clinton.


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad