Monday, October 2, 2017

A Courthouse Compromise to Appease All

Caddo Courthouse interior
There are few historians in our area I admire more than John Andrew Prime.  Mr. Prime was recently a member of the Citizen's Advisory Committee appointed by the Caddo Parish Commission for the purpose of determining the fate of the contested Caddo Parish Confederate monument which stands on the north side of the courthouse on a small parcel of land given to the United Daughters of the Confederacy by the Caddo Parish Police Jury in 1903.

That Citizens Advisory Committee voted to make a recommendation to the Caddo Parish Commission to leave the Confederate monument in place and to erect two additional monuments: one to Reconstruction and one to Civil Rights.  This recommendation was the result of months of town hall meetings with the citizens of Caddo parish and the result of study of hundreds of emails and comments from these citizens.

In the end, the Commission rejected the hard work of the committee and in a recent meeting voted to move the Confederate monument.

Mr. Prime, on the other hand, a voice of reason in all this madness, is on the right track.

Mr. Prime realizes that a community divided can only fall upon itself.

Mr. Prime has proposed a grand compromise.

If a Confederate monument standing on courthouse grounds insults Lady Justice and impedes the right of a fair trial for some of our citizens, then we should move the courthouse.

It's not a folly or a whim.

It makes good sense.

Mr. Prime wrote in The Shreveport Times on September 20, 2017:

On the other hand, removing the courthouse to a bigger, better location provides a remedy for the justice complaints and most other ills opposed by the howling anti-history mob. Turning the current courthouse into a museum, dedicated in part to telling the local story of the Civil War, the Reconstruction that led to bloody decades that led in turn to today's era of Civil Rights, also offers an alternative sure to kindle further public debate and discourse, as well as a tourism opportunity of the first order. No doubt the public, as well as historians from many walks of life in Shreveport and Caddo Parish, could offer suggestions for the building.  
 An alternative to building a new courthouse might be to repurpose a building on land already indebted to the city or parish, with copious parking, easily accessible by modern highways. 
What about Mall St. Vincent, the recipient of public largess recently through $16 million in upgrades by the city, owned by Canadian developers following insolvency declarations and reportedly available almost for the asking? It's right off I-49 and I-20, has tons of parking, and is easily accessible from most parts of Shreveport.

How about that!  A solution to appease all sides!


The Caddo Parish Courthouse is actually outdated for modern use and a new courthouse is certainly needed.  The current building is architecturally and historically significant and has been renovated through the years to include new elevators, plumbing, and electrical upgrades.  It's perfect for a museum.

Why not use currently owned Caddo parish land on Cross Bayou for the site of a new courthouse?  Shreveport has a Triple A bond rating which means we can borrow money at a low interest rate - why not use that?  And I'm willing to bet that private investors would even step up to invest in this civil compromise if for no other reason than to put an end to this issue that is certainly going to cause terrible division within our city.

We don't want to be New Orleans.

If this monument controversy goes forward it will ensnare the city in years of litigation; it's already in the courts thanks to John Settle's lawsuit, but even if that is dismissed, as the Caddo Commission has requested, that won't end the issue of who owns the land under the monument.  This will go on for years and only enrich the lawyers.

The Commission rejected the first compromise offer which the Citizen's Advisory Committee proposed.  Certainly they will have the good sense to entertain and at least explore the idea of a new Caddo Courthouse which would benefit the parish and appease both sides of the monument issue.

Should the courthouse be relocated, the current building could be a museum with exhibits dedicated to Civil Rights, famous Caddo citizens, the Caddo Indians, and even Larkin Edwards who owned the land upon which the courthouse sits.  Caddo Commissioner Matthew Linn even suggested this at one of the Commission work sessions - his suggestion was to turn the upper floor of the courthouse into a museum.  Why not the entire building?! We can even erect a monument on the south side of the courthouse to Civil Rights, as recommended by the Citizens Advisory Committee.  There is no monument on that side.

This is the potential for organic growth which Shreveport so desperately needs to embrace and will be a chance to assist in the revitalization of downtown. We could even add some retail shops, a coffee shop, a gift shop...the possibilities are there.

But mostly, it's a chance for us to come together.  We can be different.  We can unite.

Are we courageous enough to do it?

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