As protests against police violence and white supremacy swept away dozens of long-standing Confederation memorials this summer, a 105-year-old monument on the lawn of the courthouse in Lake Charles, Louisiana has remained standing.
Until Hurricane Laura tore the statue at the top.
“It’s a blessing, a small blessing, in a very devastating situation,” said Davante Lewis, who grew up in Lake Charles and supported the removal of the monument.
The debate over what to do about the Defenders of the South Memorial, which featured a Confederate soldier on a marble pedestal, had been the “hottest thing in town” in recent months, Mr. Lewis on Thursday, until residents look to prepare for one of the most severe hurricanes to hit the region.
The monument was the subject of anger and protests after the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by police in Minneapolis. The political decision on his fate has largely been broken down along racial lines, although Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter, a white Republican, has expressed support for his removal.
But two weeks ago, the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, an elected body that acts as a county council and has jurisdiction over courthouse property, voted 10 to 5 in a special meeting. to keep it.
Jury members received 945 written responses from the public in favor of the monument, according to The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, and 67 who wanted it to go.
“I consider him military, and that’s just the way I was raised, to show respect to any statues or monuments,” said Ashton Richard, a police jury member who is white and who voted to keep the memorial.
After the vote, protesters said the fight was not over; they launched an economic boycott of any business or church affiliated with jury members who voted in favor of the monument.
“If the city had done what many of us have asked it to do, this statue could be in a museum, it could be well preserved and not be damaged,” Mr Lewis said. “But unfortunately, they took other opportunities to keep it in the light of day, and Mother Nature had another plan.
Powerful winds from Hurricane Laura – bound for the strongest ever to hit Louisiana – appeared to have torn the bronze statue of the soldier from its pedestal and left it lying next to the base of the monument Thursday morning among a heap of broken tree branches.
Officials said they did not know what would happen now.
“Today it’s about making sure everyone is safe,” said Mike Smith, a police jury member who voted for impeachment.
Mr. Smith is one of four black men, along with Mr. Lewis’s father, Eddie Lewis Jr., on the 15-member police jury. It represents the whole of the parish of Calcasieu, whose residents are 68% white and 24% black. But the population of Lake Charles is about 50% African American.
The vote on whether to remove the statue was mostly split along racial lines, with only one white member voting to remove it.
“You have older white men making these decisions,” said Cary Chavis, a black man and former teacher who helped lead the protests. “When we go to the police jury and say, ‘We want this to be done,’ they don’t have to because they don’t look like us.
The statue has fallen several times before – including in a storm in 1918, just three years after it was erected – but has still been restored. In 1995, it was destroyed and repaired, despite protests from some local residents, including a district judge, who turned their backs when the soldier was brought back to the pedestal.
Mr Chavis said he hoped that would not be the case this time around.
“That’s what I’m hoping – that when we get Lake Charles back on its feet,” he said, “we put it back together not with images of systemic racism or white supremacy on public grounds.