The Caddo Parish Commission Special Projects Committee met this afternoon to discuss the issue of removing the Confederate monument that sits on the north side of the Caddo Parish courthouse.
Proposed Ordinance No. 5587
put forth by Commissioner Ken Epperson intends to provide a $300,000 appropriation to remove the Confederate monument and replace it with a monument honoring the USS Golet. That there is already a memorial to the USS Golet at the American Legion Post 14 on Cross Lake is apparently of no concern.
The monument stands on a plat of land donated by the Caddo Parish Police Jury to the United Daughters of the Confederacy
for use in perpetuity back in 1903. The land was never officially deeded to them, likely because back in those days people did business on a handshake and your good word.
The monument was constructed with a $1000 donation by the Police Jury and funds raised by the UDC.
The issue of moving the monument has been raised before (at least two of those times by Epperson), and always the legal issues over who owns the land opens "a can of worms" as it was referred to today. No doubt if it ever comes to pass that the monument be moved, it will be tied up in the courts for years and cost thousands of dollars, the beneficiary of which will only be the lawyers.
The meeting room was packed this afternoon with numerous interested citizens who wanted to share their thoughts with the Commission. Almost twenty-five people walked up to the podium to share their thoughts and only two of those supported Epperson's proposal.
Esteemed local attorney and historian Art Carmody was the first to address the Committee and noted several legal defects in the proposal and affirmed that in his opinion, the property on which the monument stands belongs to the UDC. He pointed out that the proposal as written does not specify what would happen to the monument, whether it would be moved, dismantled, or fall at the hands of a wrecking ball.
The speakers that followed all reiterated the same idea: you can't erase or sanitize history and that to allow removal of this monument opens a slippery slope for the future. Where does it end?
Notable comments were given by Retired Army Maj. Ron Chatelain who is recognized as the most decorated living war veteran in the State of Louisiana. Ron is a personal friend of mine and is one of the kindest, most gentle men I've ever known. He thanked the military veterans on the Committee for their service and he pointed out that all races fought for the South during the Civil War. With emotion quivering in his voice, he also cited the depiction of the muse Clio on the statue to represent the sacrifices and work of women at home. Chatelain suggested that Shreveport would be recognized as a more progressive city by leaving the monument where it is as a sign that as a community we can unify and work together.
Lane Callaway of the Shreveport Historic Preservation Commission made the point that if the monument is moved it would lose its listing on the National Register. Part of its historic significance is the site upon which it sits -- Shreveport was the last place that the Confederate flag flew over a public building after the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction. The site itself is therefore historic. Local professor, author, and professional historian Gary Joiner affirmed this.
Former Shreveport Times
writer and military historian John Andrew Prime also noted that Reconstruction began here and pointed out that Union monuments in the north are also under attack.
Benjamin Arnold suggested that balance is the answer. He suggested that if the Commission wants to create balance they should build a monument on the other side of the courthouse which celebrates civil rights heroes or other black heroes. He proposed citizen contributions for this project with matching funds by the Commission which would make the community more invested in the project. "Our nation was founded on compromise," he said, and suggested that we need to find a way to do that.
Several speakers called for those who are intent on inciting racial division in our city to remove themselves from office.
Only two people spoke in favor of moving the monument: attorney Henry Walker (who in a previous meeting called the statue just a bunch of concrete) suggested that we dismantle the statue, removing the four busts and placing them in Greenwood Cemetery. It will be "a place of prominence," he said. Oh, and the female figure too, he said, referring to Clio. It was not without notice that Mr. Walker received no applause at the end of his comments.
The other speaker in favor of removal was community activist Artis Cash who insisted, "that monument represents traitors to United States!" He said that "for people to come here with their melodious voices and talk about how great this was is just wrong!" He rambled on for his three minutes and said we should "honor some real heroes" in its place.
At the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Cash turned to the crowd and said, "Now y'all clap for ME now." Nobody did, and a few offered "Boo" in return, prompting him to call them "unchristian." Childish.
Mr. Cash's speech inflamed SCV member John Long who spoke after him and was furious that Cash called Confederate soldiers "traitors." "My family members weren't traitors!" he passionately insisted. "If you want to talk about traitors, let's talk about Abraham Lincoln," and then went on to quote the Emancipation Proclamation at length noting that Lincoln failed to free slaves where he had the power to.
The high emotion prompted one audience member who had not intended to speak to approach the podium after all. Andrew Stevenson suggested that the statue should be treated as a tourist site and that we have much bigger problems to deal with such as the steadily climbing murder rate and street violence. "Reverends need to go to their congregations and tell them to quit killing each other," and
suggested that the Ten Commandments should be at the courthouse and that we need to "bring God back" into our community, an observation which earned him much applause.
After the public input session, Committee members had 7 minutes to express their thoughts and most it seemed were opposed to moving the monument citing concerns about the cost, other more important issues, and a need for compromise. Many cited the need for unity rather than division. Matthew Linn suggested that the vacant top floor of the courthouse be used as a civil rights museum.
Things got interesting when Mr. Epperson had his say. In a profanity laced tirade, he blasted "jake-leg bloggers" for blowing the issue up and making it all about race, which was "Bullcrap" he said repeatedly. In a grammatical mess of English he insisted, "Hell, I never said nothing about race." Then he called for members of each military branch to raise their hands. He called next for the Daughters of the Confederacy, then the United Daughters of the Confederacy to raise their hands, apparently not aware that its the same group. Then he called for the members of Chapter 237 UDC to raise their hands, and the same people put up their hands.
Epperson called for various SCV members to raise their hands as well and then he recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Following that bizarre turn, Epperson then read the military Oath of Enlistment
although he left out the "so help me God" phrase which he said wasn't on his copy because his was the "official version."
When Epperson's time ran out, he asked for an extension then complained that the three additional minutes given him was not enough. In his additional three minutes Epperson talked about the merit of a USS Golet monument, again apparently not satisfied with the existing one at the American Legion post.
In the end, the Committee elected to table the motion for now and to form a subcommittee of community leaders and historians to discuss, share ideas, and present suggestions to the Commission at a later date.
Although he does not represent my district, as a Shreveport resident, I'm embarrassed for Mr. Epperson's behavior today. Between his profanity laced tirade, apparent attempt at intimidation by calling out groups, and general bully-ish behavior, and then Artis Cash attacking the crowd and accusing them of not being Christians, it's clear our level of government has reached a new low.
Thank goodness for the level heads in that room: Commissioner Chavez was gracious, calm, level-headed and sensible.
Personally, I don't know what the motivation behind Epperson's desire to get rid of the monument are. Most people today addressed the issue of race although he insists that isn't it. He said the brouhaha over the monuments in NOLA have nothing to do with it either. I find it hard to believe that he has such a burning desire to memorialize the Golet though. This "jake-legged blogger" just isn't buying it.
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