Dr. Rick Swanson is chair of the UL Lafayette Political Science Department. He was in the audience for the February 2016 LCG Council meeting when an hours-long public comment session regarding the Afred Mouton that sits in the point of a plaza in front of Lafayette’s International Center.
Swanson was struck by the inaccurate statements made by some defenders of the statue (Mouton was a West Point trained, slave-holding native of Opelousas whose father founded what became Lafayette) made to the council and the public regarding the origins of the Civil War and the nature of relations between blacks and whites in the area.
That launched a still-ongoing research project that sent Swanson scouring the records of the Library of Congress, the Center for Louisiana Studies, and public archives seeking to document the true history of the war and the true nature of the relationship between blacks and whites here.
It’s an ugly tale that the Mouton statue, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1922, both symbolizes and distorts. The statue was one of hundreds the UDC erected across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized segregation in its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.
As anyone who reads history knows, separate was never equal. It took 58 years before the Supreme Court reversed Plesssy with its Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in 1954. The Civil Rights movement was the culmination of a decades long struggle to reverse the practices and local laws that flowed from Plessy.
Swanson says the Mouton statues and its cousins across the country were always symbols of white supremacy, erected to celebrate the Lost Cause and to reaffirm what whites then believed to be the natural order of the world with them on top and blacks relegated to second-class citizenship.
Recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, have driven home for many the connection between these statues and white supremacies and ne0-Nazis, leading some communities to speed the removal of confederate monuments from public spaces.
Swanson is continuing to update his work and hopes to muster a book out of it as his schedule permits.
We discuss the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in Louisiana and what all those statues symbolized — then, and now!