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Louisiana House backs ban on removal of Confederate statues

The statue of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard in New Orleans. Photo: WGNO

BATON ROUGE, La. — Ignoring the pleas of their black colleagues to reject a “divisive” and “offensive” bill supported by white supremacists, lawmakers in the Louisiana House backed a proposal aimed at keeping cities from removing Confederate monuments.

After more than two hours of impassioned speeches — almost all of them coming from those opposing the legislation — the House voted 65-31 Monday for Republican Rep. Thomas Carmody’s bill.

After the vote, every black representative — each of whom had voted against the measure — left the House floor. The vote crossed party lines, with several white Democrats voting for the bill and several white Republicans voting against it.

The bill, headed next to the Senate, would ban the removal of any plaque, statue or other monument on public property commemorating a historic military figure or event — unless local voters approve the removal in an election.

Members of the black caucus spoke passionately against the bill, with Democratic Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge calling the measure “the worst thing” he has seen in the Legislature since he was elected in 2011.

Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has flared since nine black parishioners were shot to death by an avowed racist at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. New Orleans recently removed two Confederate-era monuments from prominent locations and intends to take down two more.

The bill is not retroactive.

Carmody’s own city of Shreveport has been debating what to do with a Confederate monument in front of the parish’s courthouse.

Rep. Pat Smith argued that the state should not be honoring the history of white supremacists and ignoring the history of those they enslaved. Smith said she received numerous hate-filled emails from white supremacists over the bill recently.

“(Racism) has raised its ugly head because of this issue,” the Democrat from Baton Rouge said. “Vote ‘no’ because it’s the right thing to do to at least make us feel like we, too, have a history.”

Carmody repeatedly argued that the bill’s intent is not to make it harder for the monuments to be removed but instead that voters be allowed to decide the fates of these statues, not city councils or school boards.

“This is something that gets you by your throat,” Carmody said. “Because it’s so emotional, people have come forward and said, ‘We would at least like the opportunity to vote on these statues. They basically belong to the public and we are the public.’”

Democratic Rep. Sam Jones of Franklin probed Carmody multiple times, asking him whether he thought the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery — “No,” Carmody said — and whether he believes the South acted legally when it seceded from the Union — “Yes, sir, I do,” Carmody said.

Jones concluded that lawmakers need to be more focused on helping the living, rather than debating how to honor the dead.

“We can’t seem to get the economic engine of our state going (but) we’re here today to re-fight the Civil War,” Jones said. “The cause was wrong. The issue is settled. And even though my dear friend (Carmody) believes secession is legal, it is not. It is over. We are one nation. … Can’t we just put this away?”