John E. Settle Jr.'s lawsuit asks a Caddo District Court judge to settle a question that has been asked, at least informally, for decades: Who owns the monument land — parish government or the United Daughters of the Confederacy?
Settle, a former lawyer, filed the lawsuit Monday. In legal terms, the lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment. Named as defendants are the Caddo Parish Commission and Shreveport Chapter 237 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.It is unclear to me what standing Settle has to file this suit, but that's for the court to decide.
My feelings about the nation's monument debate have always been clear. And while I am a descendant of a Confederate soldier, and while I have lived in the South all of my life, I am sickened as much by the destruction of the art as I am the attempt to hide history. From a logical standpoint, I can't understand the sudden rush to offense when these monuments have stood for over a hundred years.
But, let's go back to the art for a moment, especially with regard to our Caddo Parish monument. The work on that monument is stunning. We are privileged to have such a beautiful and unique monument. I'm going to share a few passages with you from the National Register application for the monument:
"...facing inward is a life-size white marble depiction of Clio, the muse of History. She has a classically styled robe draped over her right shoulder that falls gracefully to the ground. Her shoulder-length hair is knotted in the back and captures two sprigs of laurel wreaths bracketing her beautiful idealized face. She peers intently at the pages of a marble book of remembrance about 3' tall on which is written the words “Erected by theThe key words there are "Tribute to Our Gallant Dead." How can that be an offense to anyone? The craftsmanship on the monument is stunning and is so evident on the classical detailing of Clio.
In the discussion of the four busts on the monument I believe these remarks about Governor Henry Allen are important:
[On the busts,] "...two important features of sculptor Frank Teich’s work are illustrated: accuracy of uniform depictions and youthful age of soldiers portrayed. The busts of the four generals were realized as three- dimensional representations from consulting Carte-de-visit photographs collected from the war period. The medium is the difficult-to-carve Texas granite. The Caddo Parish Monument likeness of Henry Watkins Allen, Louisiana's Governor and decorated Confederate General, closely resembles his photograph and is the only granite bust and one of only three sculptures of him in Louisiana.Only one of three? Shouldn't we treasure that rather than destroy it? Shouldn't that be something to celebrate rather than deride?
The Caddo Parish Confederate monument is unique when compared to others in that it holds six figures: General Robert E. Lee, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Louisiana’s Confederate General P.G. T. Beauregard, Louisiana’s Confederate General and Governor Henry Watkins Allen, as well as Clio and the lone soldier atop the 30 foot pedestal.
The beauty of the monument is evident as well as the historic site on which it sits.
With the monuments controversy ignited by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu raging across the country, the Caddo Parish Commission turned the issue of our own monument over to their Long Range Planning Committee who in turn formed a sub-committee made up of local historians, scholars, and citizens. The sub-committee held numerous town-hall meetings across the city, many of which were heated and went on long after the scheduled end time.
Citizens showed up to these meetings to voice their opinions on the monument; the sub-committee recorded all of the input either through the meetings or through email and written opinions and then the sub-committee presented a final finding to the Long Range Planning Committee.
The recommendation by a 5-3 vote was to keep the monument in place and to erect new signage as well as two flanking monuments: one to Civil Rights and one to the Reconstruction era. The Long Range Planning Committee was to take it to the full Commission for a vote.
So what happened?
In what some saw as an ambush, an ex-officio member of the committee was brought in to vote in the Long Range Planning Committee meeting on September 5, which turned the vote in favor of removal. No discussion about flanking monuments or new signage, just removal.
This decision was a slap in the face to the months long process of the sub-committee who had already made their recommendation and voted on presenting it to the full Commission as well as to the citizens who attended meetings and voiced opinions, working within the given system.
Which brings us to Settle's lawsuit.
Mr. Settle contends that if the United Daughters of the Confederacy owns the land under the monument, which is commonly believed, then the Commission has no right to vote on removal at all.
There are legal questions about whether the parish has the authority to remove the monument, which has the likeness of a Confederate soldier and the busts of four generals. The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the monument -- but ownership of the land on which it sits in murky. The official parish position is that they own the land -- that the courthouse has been there since the early part of the 1900s and ownership has passed to the parish through what amounts to frontier rights.
An opposing position is that the courthouse square belongs to the descendants of Larkin Edwards, a friend of the Caddo Indians who sold much of the land that was the original Shreveport. There is no record that proves Edwards ever sold the land that is now the courthouse square. Early maps show it was to be a Public Square.
The UDC was given use of the land "in perpetuity" in 1903 by the Caddo Parish Police Jury. In 1903 a man's word was his bond and the donation was recorded in the minutes of the Policy Jury along with a large cash donation for the monument.
Now both the Caddo Commission and the United Daughters of the Confederacy are compelled to respond to Settle's suit. The UDC is a non-profit organization who does not have cash stored away to fight legal battles. They raise money for scholarships, museum contributions, and local charities but as a non-profit they don't keep large cash piles on hand.
When the monument was defaced and damaged last year, the Shreveport Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy asked for donations to restore the monument and benefactors stepped up. The monument has never been more beautiful than it is today. Once again, the UDC is asking for help, now, to fight this legal challenge. We can be the city that stands in favor of keeping our public art works in the public square.
If you wish to contribute to the legal fund to help the UDC respond to this lawsuit, you can send a check to them:
Please note on your check that it is for the legal defense fund.
The Caddo Parish Confederate monument is one of our unique artistic treasures and it sits on an historic site. As a community we should embrace the compromise initially offered by the sub-committee which was arrived at through due process. The monument should stay right where it is.
We can be the city that sets the example that monuments can be both beautiful and educational at the same time and need not be destroyed or removed.