Taking a Knee and Taking Down a Monument

In a Louisiana town, a mother navigates racial tensions that flare up around her son’s wish to take a knee during the national anthem, and her own wish to have a local Confederate monument removed.

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SHREVEPORT, La. — As Confederate monuments across the country were being removed in October, sometimes under the cover of night, the Caddo Parish Commission in Shreveport, La., voted 7 to 5 in favor of removing its own, a 30-foot stone sculpture that has loomed over the entrance to the parish courthouse since 1906.

After a federal judge in the Western District of Louisiana denied a preliminary injunction last Friday to keep the monument in place, the parish is preparing for further litigation and for the challenge of removing the monument.

Unlike removal of the Confederate flag, which flew over the courthouse grounds until the commission voted to take it down in 2011, the relocation of the monument is projected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a new home for it has yet to be determined.

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Credit...Brent McDonald/The New York Times

The United Daughters of the Confederacy had filed the injunction, claiming that the 400-square-foot parcel, on which the monument stands, is the private property of the Daughters, not of the parish. It said that forcing the group to remove the sculpture would violate its constitutional rights.

The Daughters erected the monument with a $1,000 donation from the Caddo Parish Police Jury, the predecessor to the commission. The sculpture is a celebration of the Lost Cause, a movement championed by the Daughters that sought to honor the South’s “gallant dead.” The movement also aimed to recast the Civil War as being about something other than upholding slavery, and to characterize slavery as a benevolent institution.

In the middle of the monument, Clio, the muse of history, stands facing the words “Lest We Forget” and “Confederate.” In her right hand is a scroll that once bore the word “History,” though according to the National Register of Historic Places, that portion of the scroll went missing around 2010. Clio is surrounded by the busts of four Confederate generals: Robert E. Lee, Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, P. G. T. Beauregard and Henry Watkins Allen. (Allen would later become governor of Louisiana.)

For LaPeachra Bell, 39, who attended the commission’s vote in October, the monument is a reminder of a different sort — an emblem of the systematic and brutal oppression that black people suffered under slavery. Ms. Bell said it was also a reminder of the violence that white people continued to wage on African-Americans during Reconstruction — including dozens of lynchings — earning Caddo Parish the moniker “Bloody Caddo.” And in a state with one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates of African-Americans, she added, the sculpture is a symbol to many who enter the courthouse today that justice is not yet equal.

“Why would I praise a Confederate monument when it did nothing but bring hurt to my race?” Ms. Bell said. “Even if I was innocent, as a black man or a black woman, by the time I go in that courthouse, I’m passing by that … monument. It’s letting me know that my chances are slim, because they still respect somebody that murdered us. They raped us, they did all kinds of stuff to us that’s unthinkable.”

When the vote to remove the monument was announced, a wave of applause and utterings of “thank you, Jesus” swept through the packed commission chamber. An 81-year-old black woman wept tears of joy. Strangers hugged. Others turned and walked out.

The New York Times filmed the commission vote in October, as part of a video documentary following Ms. Bell and her son, a high-school football player in Shreveport who was enmeshed in the controversy over student athletes’ taking a knee during the national anthem.

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