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How Lafayette commemorates Juneteenth

Man celebrates where Mouton statue was
Activist Corey Levier celebrates where the Mouton statue stood for nearly a century. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Lafayette’s Black community observed Juneteenth long before it was a state and federal holiday. For decades, churches and advocacy groups have commemorated the end of slavery by marking June 19, the day Union soliders arrived in Galveson, Texas, with news of liberation. 

Today, in the wake of a broader reckoning with racism in American history, the holiday has taken on greater prominence. Lafayette itself was party to that seismic shift in American culture. Protests erupted locally in 2020, both in solidarity with national outrage at the death of George Floyd and in response to Lafayette police’s killing of Trayford Pellerin.

In 2021, Lafayette joined a movement to tear down Jim Crow monuments, removing a statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton from his Downtown perch. The yearslong campaign to topple it was led by Fred Prejean, the civil rights activist and founder of Move the Mindset who died in January

Organizers say the spirit of Juneteenth is one of unity, an opportunity for all to commemorate a milestone in the struggle for freedom and equality, take stock of enduring injustices and celebrate the contributions of the Black community. 

“Juneteenth gives us all an opportunity to reflect on this nation’s founding and truly begin to understand the dynamics and the people who worked to make this country what it is today — a beacon of light throughout the world,” says Ravis Martinez, president of Lafayette’s NAACP chapter. “As we celebrate Juneteenth, we also celebrate America. Both are necessary for the other to exist.” 

Check out Juneteenth events

Organized festivities have been a part of Lafayette’s Juneteenth observance since the 1990s. For the most part, local churches and civic organizations have held their own events. This year, a coalition of groups has banded together to coordinate Lafayette’s commemoration, spearheaded by the Southwest Louisiana Juneteenth Committee. 

All week, partner organizations will host civic and cultural events designed to uplift and educate the Black community. Here’s this year’s lineup: 

On top of music, food and cultural showcases, organizers use the occasion to raise awareness about issues impacting the Black community and provide resources like the annual job fair, which has long been part of the Juneteenth Committee’s program. 

“It’s an opportunity to educate the people in our community,” says Susannah Johnson Malbreaux of the SWLA Juneteenth Committee. 

Local organizations to support 

Juneteenth is as much about action as it is about celebration. And most of the organizations involved in the week of events are out doing the work year round. Here are a few of the groups involved: 

SWLA Juneteenth Committee has organized Lafayette’s Juneteenth Festival for years. Officially formed in 2009, its work dates to the 1990s. Each year, the Committee recruits donors, vendors and sponsors. Learn More | Follow | Donate

Move the Mindset was founded by the late Lafayette civil rights activist Fred Prejean to promote racial and social justice. Move the Mindset was instrumental in advocating for the removal of the Mouton statue and has continued its work through coalition building. Learn More | Follow | Donate

NAACP is America’s oldest civil rights organization. Lafayette’s chapter has a long history of local advocacy. It continues to provide a voice for the Black community on local issues. Learn More | Follow | Donate

Black Voters Matter works to increase voter registration and turnout among Black voters and advocates for policies that increase voting access. Lafayette’s local chapter has successfully advocated for restoring more voting rights to formerly incarcerated people. Learn More | Follow | Donate

Equal Justice Initiative is a national organization that advocates for criminal justice reform and combatting systems rooted in the legacy of American slavey. Move the Mindset partners with EJI on social collection ceremonies honoring the memories of lynching victims. Learn More | Follow | Donate

Tell us about your organization here, and we’ll add it to the list. 

Be a change agent

This year’s activities strike a bittersweet tone. It’s the first time Lafayette will commemorate Juneteenth without a confederate monument and without Fred Prejean, the activist who brought it down. 

Prejean’s legacy continues in the work of Move the Mindset, the organization he founded. Move the Mindset hosts the Juneteenth commemoration, which will honor Prejean’s contributions to the cause of justice and sustain his call to action.  

“Juneteenth is both looking back to the past and an opportunity to coordinate and organize, to define a future that we want,” says Frank Crocco, president of Move the Mindset.

Prejean urged people around him to become change agents. Crocco points out the parallels between censorship at the library and the historical whitewashing represented by the Mouton statue. 

“I think we want to share the various stories that comprise our communities,” he says. “That was what moving the Mouton statue was about. It told a certain version of that history that conveniently left out the bhoorors of slavery and Jim Crow and ongoing oppression. But it didn’t tell all of the stories.” 

The tried and true playbook of advocacy is being “visible,” Crocco says. And it was a key lesson in Prejean’s successful campaign to not just move the Mouton statue but change how people thought about our own history. 

That means raising awareness about the issues you care about with your representatives on the City Council or Parish Council. Find your city or parish council person’s contact information here and here.