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Rally calling for the removal of a statue of Henry Watkins Allen, the former Louisiana Confederate governor and general, Sunday, June 28, 2020, in a courtyard of the West Baton Rouge Parish Library. The statue faces the parish courthouse, which is across the street.

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 Confederate governor, Henry Watkins Allen, amid growing calls from activists that the memorial is a reminder of Louisiana’s bleak history under slavery.

The Parish Council passed a resolution by a 6-3 vote Thursday evening to keep the statue at its perch facing the courthouse instead of moving it to the West Baton Rouge Museum. The council's six White members voted yes and its three Black members voted no. 

The decision comes a day after Port Allen City Council members unanimously backed a resolution urging the parish to move the structure. Several city council members echoed concerns of some residents about the statue’s location across from the courthouse in an area known as Heroes Plaza.

They say the statue is better suited in the museum where the history of Allen, a Confederate army general who was elected governor in 1863, can be fully detailed.

Residents and activists seeking to remove the statue have said the memorial is a painful reminder of slavery and the long-lasting discrimination Black people have faced since.

"For the statue to be destroyed or vandalized would have been very vengeful," said Clerice Lacy Carter, a Port Allen resident who led a protest last month calling for the statue's removal. "For it to be removed properly is justice and freedom, and for the statue to move to the museum is equality."

Supporters for keeping the statue at the courthouse say its removal would strip a piece of Louisiana history and a benchmark of the state’s progress.

The statue depicts Henry Allen hunched over and an inscription at its base reads: "If possible, forget the past, look forward to the future.”

Jason Seymour, a Port Allen native and U.S. Marine veteran, pointed to the hospitals built under Allen’s administration and his popularity while governor.

“This man worked hard for our state,” he said.

After Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender to the Union army, Allen voiced support for continuing the struggle against the North and arming slaves to aid in the fight, according to state records. He died in 1866 at the age of 45 while living in exile in Mexico City after the Civil War.

Allen owned more than 220 slaves who worked on farmland on the west bank that later became the Allendale Plantation. The City of Port Allen also bears his name, having been changed more than 150 years ago from its previous name, La Ville de St. Michel.

Some have acknowledged the Allen namesake but haven't pushed to rename the town, a process that would be a major undertaking with significant financial costs.

“We know his past, you can’t erase history," said Port Allen Mayor Richard Lee III. "For his statue to be in front of the courthouse is painful for everyone."

Parish council member Chris "Fish" Kershaw pushed forward the resolution during Thursday's meeting, saying the statue should remain in place and any decision to move it "would drive a wedge" between the community. 

The decision came as several municipalities in Louisiana have considered or taken action on renaming streets and taking down landmarks with ties to slavery and the Confederacy.

In some U.S. cities, protesters have torn down monuments. In New Orleans,  the bust of former slave owner John McDonogh was ripped down in Duncan Plaza and rolled into the Mississippi River last month.

A handful of Louisiana cities and parishes that have mulled removing Confederate statues have expressed concerns their public monuments could share a similar fate.

Recent proposals on removing Confederate monuments in the Baton Rouge region have seen mixed outcomes.

The Iberville Parish Council agreed to remove a more than century-old Confederate statue in downtown Plaquemine. Their vote last month drew a unified nod across a racially and politically diverse panel of 13 council members.

But police jurors in East Feliciana this week rejected a proposal to remove a Confederate soldier statue in front of the parish courthouse in Clinton.

Like West Baton Rouge Parish, the East Feliciana decision split the three Black and 5 White voting jurors.

Following Thursday's meeting, a disappointed crowd gathered outside the parish community center in Port Allen.

Carter, the Port Allen resident, said she plans to continue to press the issue, noting that the people in favor of removing the statue had been willing to reach the compromise of housing the statue at the museum.

Carter said she sees the statue eventually being taken down, possibly by force or a later council vote. "It's going to get taken down, but why not vote to take it down?" she asked.

A similar effort to move the Port Allen statue in 2017 stalled, mainly due to a change in leadership at the West Baton Rouge Museum. 

Angelique Bergeron, director of the museum, told the council she supports taking in the statue to preserve it and to "set the record straight" about Allen's past and history during the time he lived.  

"We’ve been living in a nightmare that we have to face if we’re ever going to wake ourselves up from this dream," Bergeron said. "We need to address the issues that are tearing apart our communities today."


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