Fred Prejean & Mimi Methvin: Muting Lafayette’s Monument to Hate

For the past 95 years, the white marble statue of Alfred Mouton has served as something of the official greeter for Lafayette from his perch atop a pedestal on public land at the intersection of Lee Avenue and Jefferson Street.

Until about 1981, the statue stood in front of Lafayette City Hall. When City Hall was moved to University Avenue, city leaders wanted to take Mouton with them, but the people responsible for putting the statue of the former vigilante, West Point graduate turned traitor, Confederate general on that pedestal objected.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy and their local chapter wanted Mouton’s white marble likeness to remain where they had paid to put it in 1922. The UDC went to court. The City of Lafayette folded and signed off on a permanent injunction which prevented the city (and its Lafayette Consolidated Government successor) from moving it except under certain circumstances.

In February 2016, the LCG Council held a public hearing on the Mouton statue. The meeting was to gauge public sentiment on whether the statue honoring a defeated general who committed treason against the United States in defense of the right of Southern whites to own other human beings should remain in its current location.

Hundreds of people turned out for the meeting. Many spoke in the meeting which lasted several hours.

A letter from the City-Parish attorney examining the legal issues surrounding the  statue was read at the end of the meeting. Clearly it was the hope of LCG Mayor President Joel Robideaux that the letter which cited the permanent injunction would make the issue go away. It has not.

Move The Mindset was formed in Lafayette in August 2016 based on the recognition that if the LCG Council was going to muster the political will to move the statue to a museum or some other place, that the backbone to do it would only come if the public supported the effort to move Mouton.

Move The Mindset has hosted documentaries, engaged in book readings, convened forums all as part of its mission to move Lafayette’s mindset on Mouton and on the state of race relations in what is supposedly the happiest town in the United States.

What was clear from the LCG Council hearing was that some whites have a perspective on the state of relations among the races in Lafayette that is far removed from reality. They also have little or no knowledge about the true origins of the Civil War, the centrality of slavery to monied 19th Century Southern whites, and zero concept about the white reign of terror that overthrew reconstruction and created the segregated political regime and society that has officially ended but which persists as an ideal of sorts.

The white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA, in August prompted Move The Mindset to go public again with a call for LCG and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to strike a deal to relocate the Mouton statue. It turns out that the UDC helped fund more than 1,000 similar monuments to white supremacy across the country. What is striking about the history of those statues is that most went up after the United States Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision which legalized segregation and relegated blacks to second class citizenship. A second wave of statues was erected during the 1950s in response to the Supreme Court’s Brown. v. Board of Education decision which reversed Plessy.

Clearly the Mouton statue, like his confederal monument cousins elsewhere, was a political statement reaffirming that white supremacy had been re-established as the political order. The Brown decision and the entire Civil Rights Movement were about overturning that order.

Fred Prejean is a co-founder of Move The Mindset. Mimi Methvin is a former federal magistrate and an attorney. They are part of the leadership of the group that is trying to help Lafayette live up to the progressive city it projects itself to be in its marketing and economic development efforts.

In this podcast, we talk about the monument, about Move The Mindset, and about the growing community awareness about the history of the Mouton statue and its connection to white supremacy, and the widening circle of support for moving the statue off of publicly owned land.

The old City Hall now serves as host to Lafayette’s International Center — the place where foreign business visitors are directed to go when seeking business ties in the region. Alfred Mouton’s statue — a tribute to racism and intolerance — is there to greet them when they arrive.

Alfred Mouton does not symbolize Lafayette or its values. Having this statue standing in a place of public honor contradicts that fact.

It’s time for his statue to be moved.