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Taking a Knee and Taking Down a Monument

The struggle over Shreveport's Confederate monument converges with talk about a national anthem protest by high-schoolers.

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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.