Confederate monument bills fall

Decisions on the fate of Confederate monuments erected in towns and cities around Louisiana will be left to local governments.

BATON ROUGE — Two bills that would have made it harder to take down Confederate monuments on public spaces were defeated here Wednesday even as the debate over the future of such statues continues in Alexandria, Lafayette and Shreveport.

Members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs committee voted 4-2 to kill both House Bill 71 By Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, and Senate Bill 198 by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton.

Carmody's bill, which was passed by the full House and spurred a walkout of Legislative Black Caucus members, would have required local elections to determine whether to take down monuments.

Mizell's bill, which was receiving its first hearing, would have required legislative approval to remove the statues.

Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, who is black, said Confederate monuments "are constant reminders of the atrocities of slavery."

"Do you feel our pain?" Carter asked Carmody, who is white.

"I feel your pain," Carmody said.

But Carmody said even the darkest parts of America's history "are parts of our story. It's difficult to pull threads out of the tapestry of our story."

Carter compared the atrocities of slavery to those committed against Jews during the Holocaust and pressed Carmody on whether he would support preserving a statue of Adolph Hitler.

"If it existed, no," Carmody said.

But a women who identified herself as Jewish and traveled to the hearing from Florida to support the bills scolded Carter for the comparison.

"Let the Jews worry about the Jews' history, and don't bring up the Holocaust," said Janet Bernstein.

One supporter of the bills said: "If it's (Robert E.) Lee today, it could be Jesus tomorrow."

But opponents testified that the monuments were "symbols of hate" and noted that those who fought for the South committed treason against the United States.

New Orleans had been the epicenter of the debate before the last of four monuments there, a statue of Lee, was removed two weeks ago.

But the controversy continues in other cities and towns throughout Louisiana.

In Shreveport, four community meetings were held to discus the fate of a monument featuring a Confederate soldier and Confederate Gens. Henry Watkins Allen, P.G.T. Beauregard, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at the Caddo Parish Courthouse.

Carmody attended the final meeting last week, where a committee is charged with eventually making a recommendation to the Caddo Parish Commission about the monument's future.

In Lafayette, it's been more than a year since the Lafayette City-Parish Council passed on taking action to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton from public property in downtown Lafayette. The Mouton statue is in front of the Le Centre International building at the point where Jefferson Street and Lee Avenue meet.

In Alexandria, the City Council discussed the Confederate veteran memorial in front of the Rapides Parish Courthouse during its meeting Tuesday night. No action was taken because it isn't clear who owns the monument.

And in northeastern Louisiana, there are no plans to take down a monument in Tallulah featuring a young Confederate soldier standing above a Confederate flag.

For now, those communities can make their own decisions without mandates from the Legislature.

"We must have the courage to understand our differences," said committee Chair Karen Carter Peterson, who is black. "We want to be courteous and respectful and move forward as one people."

Peterson opened the hearing with the Pledge of Allegiance, which is unusual for a committee hearing.

"We opened with the Pledge to the United States of America, not the (Confederate States of America) because we are indivisible," she said. "I refuse to continue to fight the Civil War."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1

 

© 2017 WWL-TV


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