To the editor:

In the upcoming week, St. Landry Parish will be gearing up for the bicentennial celebration at the courthouse square March 31.

What a special time for all parish residents to revel in the unique culture and heritage that makes up our area. But behind all of the hand shaking, back patting and congratulations being spread on our parish making the 200 year mark, there lies a sinister force that could very well tarnish that cultural diversity that we share and questions whether or not we are all truly tolerant of everyone and their heritage.

In February, the committee organizing the celebration put a call out to all businesses, groups and organizations to take advantage of free booth space around the square to share their stories, products, achievements and work. While I do not know the count, I am sure that several businesses and groups took advantage of this kind offer. One of those groups was the local Brigadier General J. J. Alfred A. Mouton Camp 778 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a 501.C.3 organization. While the local camp chartered in 2000, the national organization, made up of male descendants of Confederate veterans of the Civil War, has been in existence since 1896. Since chartering, the camp has strived to be a good citizen in the city of Opelousas and this parish.

The camp’s work includes annual canned food drives at Christmas time with the items collected being given to the Opelousas food bank and annual historical programs put on at local schools, where many of its members take days off from work to bring history to life for the local students of all grades. Every April, the camp has donated books to the Opelousas public library in honor of Confederate History Month, which by the way has once again being proclaimed by Gov. Blanco. The camp has organized civil war reenactments at historic sites and festivals that encourage tourism and support the parish’s economy. The camp has even planned a reenactment for this fall and specifically wanted it to promote the parish’s yearlong bicentennial celebration. The camp has hosted a Confederate Memorial Day ceremony every June since 2000 at the monument on the courthouse square, remembering the soldiers, both black and white, of St. Landry Parish who answered the state’s call for volunteers when war broke out in 1861. And every year after the ceremony, in the heat of June’s sun, members spread out to cemeteries far and wide to mark the graves of those same soldiers with small grave marker flags. Speaking of cemeteries, the camp has also cleaned the headstones of those soldiers and is currently cleaning the historic cemetery at Moundville. A cemetery, all but forgotten by this parish, was in such deplorable state that the Sons have spent days, and are nowhere near completion, cleaning this historic site.

I could go on, but with that said, imagine my surprise when a bicentennial committee meeting was held and its members voted to block the Mouton Camp from setting up a booth. This vote occurred even after two camp officers attended, at the request of the committee, to explain the camp’s plans for their booth. The presentation elicited numerous questions from committee members, all of which were happily answered. Was any other group or business asked to come and explain what they had in mind for their booth space? Doubtful. Was there a litmus test for receiving a booth? It was never announced. This is a disgrace and a black mark on St. Landry Parish. Is this parish and the people who serve on its committees that hypocritical and discriminatory that it actually thinks it can hide history and punish an organization that has done nothing but good things to promote history and heritage in this parish. St. Landry sent many a boy and man to the fields of Virginia and Tennessee and points all across the South. This day an age of political correctness has led to them being derided and slandered and now the same is happening to their sons and grandsons who strive to keep their memory alive. St. Landry Parish has always bragged about its cultural diversity and history. It seems that the powers that be would very much like to see that time period between 1861 and 1865, and the Confederate soldiers who volunteered in droves, swept under the rug. It is truly a shame and appears as though the "controversy" that the committee thought it could avoid, and most certainly could not justify, by discriminating against the SCV and shutting them out, may very well bring on one that may tarnish its bicentennial celebration after all.

M. Chapman

Port Barre

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