Lafayette statues themselves erase history

ADVOCATE STORY --- March 27, 2016


At the recent Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting about the Alfred Mouton statue, and on the recent KRVS show “Bayou to Beltway,” which discussed the statue, I heard some speakers claim that moving the Alfred Mouton statue to a museum would be “erasing history.”

Quite the opposite — the statue itself erases history. According to the 1860 census, 49.7 percent of Lafayette Parish was enslaved. Alexander Mouton enslaved 121 people, and his son Alfred Mouton enslaved 13 people (including several young children). Forty-seven percent of Louisiana’s population was enslaved, and there were 4 million people enslaved throughout the South. This translates to roughly about 1 in every 4 Southern families owning slaves, not including the numerous white people who directly benefited from the profits of slave labor and not including all the nonslave-owning white people who aspired to become slave owners.

During secession, the formation of the Confederacy and the Civil War, Southern white people themselves extensively explained that they were doing it all to preserve such slavery. (See civilwarcauses.org for Southern white speeches and writings at the time). Later, during Reconstruction and the segregationist Jim Crow era, thousands of black people were murdered and beaten throughout the South by white people violently enforcing the racial class system.

It was during this time, after the Civil War and faced with the embarrassment of having lost a war while fighting for an unjust cause, that Southern white people began to rewrite history. They now claimed the Civil War was about a “lost cause” for “states’ rights” against “northern aggression.”

A feel-good myth trumped the truth. This historical revisionism also romanticized a “Southern way of life” in which slaves were happy, and violent paramilitary groups like the KKK were cast as saviors of white supremacy during Reconstruction and segregation. Beginning in the 1890s and well into the 1930s, the United Daughters of the Confederacy led the Lost Cause effort to rewrite history by glorifying white supremacy through (among other things) placing Confederate monuments throughout the South. This erased the historical facts of slavery; of the true cause of secession, the Confederacy and Civil War; and of the systematic white-on-black terrorism throughout reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.

The Alfred Mouton statue was part of this historical revisionism that glorifies white supremacy. As such, the statue promotes and even celebrates racial division in our community. Moving the statute to a museum, therefore, will allow historical truths that were erased to finally be told. Only by being deeply honest about the past can we hope to move forward together as a united community.

I hope and believe we are moving in that positive direction.

Rick Swanson

university professor