SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — Local officials voted to remove a Confederate monument from the courthouse grounds in a northwest Louisiana parish, and were quickly sued by the group that commissioned the ornate memorial more than a century ago.
The Caddo Parish Commission voted 7-5 for the measure on Thursday after hearing nearly two hours of opinions about the monument erected in 1906 in a parish once called "Bloody Caddo" because so many African-Americans were killed during Reconstruction.
R.J. Johnson, chair of a citizens' advisory committee appointed by the commission, said moving the statue away from the parish courthouse in Shreveport "is about reconciling the community. This vote is an opportunity for us to shed our parish's reputation as 'Bloody Caddo,'" The Times reported .
One of those against, Rex Dukes, told the commission, "Over 300 of my people, of my ancestors fought in the Confederate War; probably more than anybody else in this room. The monument needs to stay where it is," KSLA-TV reported .
He contended that moving the statue," is not going to bring in unity whatsoever. This will further divide this country to the point to where you could end up in another civil war."
However, the station reported, more than 80 percent of those attending rose to their feet when Commission President Steven Jackson asked those who support the monument's removal to stand.
The monument features a larger-than-life statue of a young soldier on a pedestal, surrounded by busts of four Confederate generals on lower pedestals. A life-sized statue showing Clio, the muse of history, points to a 3-foot-high (1-meter-high) book of remembrance which bears the words "Love's tribute to our gallant dead."
The United Daughters of the Confederacy's Shreveport chapter filed suit late Thursday, news media reported.
The lawsuit contends that moving the monument would violate the organization's rights to free speech, due process and equal protection under law, the newspaper reported. The right to equal protection is in the 14th Amendment, which was passed to protect the rights of freed slaves.
The lawsuit also contends that the United Daughters of the Confederacy owns the bit of land on which the statues stand, KTBS-TV reported .
It is not certain the UDC owns the land, Commissioner Lyndon B. Johnson told the station. He said the parish may have reserved land for the monument without donating it to the group.
He's among seven individual commissioners named as defendants for voting to remove the monument. The commission itself also is a defendant.
The monument belongs in a museum, not in front of a courthouse, Johnson said.
Commissioner Jim Middleton, who voted against removal, said, "There were Daughters of the Confederacy that were 8, 9 and 10 years old when their parents left to go to the war, and when they came back may have been maimed or wounded. My personal perspective, I don't think they built the monument as a white supremacist act. I viewed it as being out love for their fathers that went to war."
"This monument undermines a basic principle, a fundamental law, the 14th Amendment right to due process and justice under the law," Jackson said. "When individuals go to the courthouse, you have a symbol of injustice in front of a place of justice."
Many in the audience stood to applaud the vote, The Times reported.
A motion to have voters decide the matter failed 5-7.
American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana executive director Marjorie Esman said the decision shows Shreveport is a place where freedom and equality are valued.