At the beginning of this week, the idea of asking the Iberville Parish Council whether to remove a statue of a Confederate soldier in Plaquemine had yet to pass a single threshold.

But within about 36 hours, council members unanimously agreed to take up the matter and, after a brief public hearing Tuesday night, all 12 members of the panel voted to remove the relic, which one council member called an insult to the descendants of slaves.

“It shows that we’re actually moving forward finally and getting things done,” said council member Raheem Pierce. “We need to create new symbols together: white and black, Republican and Democrat.”

The statue has towered on a street corner next to the old courthouse along a busy stretch of road through the city’s downtown for more than a century. At its base is one of a few inscriptions reading: “The principles for which they fought live eternally”

The parish council added a resolution to take down the statue to its agenda at the behest of the parish president’s office, and it required all 12 members' support before it could even come up.

Council members had little discussion following mainly supportive comments from the public, including a man who told officials he’s offended every time he drives by it and others should be, too.

Pierce said he was surprised by how quick the decision came, as well as the unified vote spanning across racial, generational and political party lines.

Still, he said, more needs to be done to address icons of racial inequality in the parish, including discussions he hopes to press on removing plaques with the names of plantation owners outside the old courthouse.

“It’s a start,” Pierce said. He was still in high school when he began campaigning for a seat he won last fall. 

The decision to remove the statue follows a nationwide reckoning on racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed last month in Minneapolis when a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

Protests decrying his death and police violence have since spurred across the globe. A recent trend that's emerged from weeks of protests has seen cities and public institutions have sought to rename streets, remove monuments and rename public spaces attached to colonial- and Confederate-era figures with attachments to slavery.

In some cases, protesters have forcibly removed statues and monuments. Such was the case Saturday in New Orleans when protesters tore down the bust of former slave owner John McDonogh in Duncan Plaza and rolled it into the Mississippi River.

Iberville Council Chairman Mathew Jewel said he had hoped to avoid a similar fate, or worse, an incident that might draw outsiders and set up potentially violent clashes that have happened in other cities.

"We don’t want our community to turn into a riot or see a racial division, he said Wednesday. "We want everybody to prosper."

Jewel also said he worried damaging forces could spill over to nearby memorials for U.S. service members — symbols he says better reflects a unified country.

Parish leaders cannot recall if there have ever been past efforts to remove the Confederate statue, which was raised in 1912 by the local Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that has been inactive locally since the 1930s.

The organization is part of a national group based in Richmond, Virginia, and in recent years has fought against the removal of Confederate-era monuments, saying they serve to memorialize those who died in the Civil War.

Iberville Parish leaders approached the museum in Plaquemine if it would be interested in having the statue. It declined to take it, soiInstead, the structure will be indefinitely put into a crate and stored. If an owner comes forwards, they can claim it, Jewel said.

Like Plaquemine, officials in East Feliciana Parish are also considering the removal of a Confederate soldier statue in front of the courthouse in Clinton. Past efforts to remove that monument have been unsuccessful.

Officials haven't set a date for when they plan to remove the statue in Plaquemine.


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