Fredrick Prejean, the Lafayette civil rights leader who toppled a century-old monument to Jim Crow, died Thursday morning in his sleep, his wife confirmed. Prejean was 75.
An advocate for Lafayette’s Black community from a young age, Prejean was instrumental in summoning public pressure to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton from its perch in Downtown Lafayette in 2021.
“Lafayette has lost a legend. Fred Prejean was a fighter. He despised inequality in all of its forms; doing something halfway or without conviction were equally unacceptable to him,” Move the Mindset attorney Jerome Moroux said in a statement. “Many of us who have had the privilege to work alongside him were inspired by his integrity and courage. He will be missed.”
A statement from his family is forthcoming.
Born in Fightinville in 1946, Prejean came of age in a segregated Lafayette. At 17 years old, he attended the 1963 March on Washington, an experience that became a lifelong “north star” in his commitment to racial reconciliation and social justice.
After six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Prejean graduated from Southern University in 1974 with a degree in accounting and business management. His work as a student organizer was documented in the book The Black Revolution on Campus, which credits him with leading student groups to demand better facilities and a more representative curriculum.
He spent his career helping Black families and business owners, particularly farmers, gain access to working capital and opportunity, establishing credit unions and co-ops that promoted self-reliance.
“I wanted to help people learn to provide for themselves,” he told The Daily Advertiser in 2020 of his career.
Prejean was an active citizen. He served on several local boards and spent more than a decade on Lafayette’s planning commission, where he championed the creation of neighborhood coteries as channels of public input and agency. He served as an undersecretary in the Louisiana State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from 1991 to 1996.
He founded Move the Mindset in 2016 in pursuit of removing the Mouton statue, as similar monuments began to come down around the country. The group later broadened the scope of its advocacy to challenge Lafayette’s conscience on racial justice.
For decades, the Mouton statue was said to be unmovable, protected by an injunction issued in the 1980s. On July 16, 2021, a deal was reached to pull the monument down. Within 24 hours, a crane plucked the statue and its base and loaded it on a flatbed truck.
Prejean, on hand to witness the fruits of his labor, stood grinning with a fist in the air.
I feel so privileged to be a member of Move the Mindset and to have worked with Fred and that group that worked so hard to have the Mouton statue removed. And also to work with him and the Equal Justice Initiative committee to honor those who were lynched in the Acadiana area.
I wish I had known him longer! I’m going to really miss our conversations! He is definitely going to be missed! RIP dear Fred, RIP!