Statue of Edward White, segregationist judge, moved from outside La. Supreme Court building to inside

By: - December 23, 2020 7:39 pm
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The Louisiana Supreme Court building on Royal Street in New Orleans. The statue of segregationist Edward White, a former Louisiana Supreme Court justice and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was relocated inside Wednesday. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry)

The statue of Edward Douglass White Jr., a Confederate soldier who served on the Louisiana Supreme Court, was relocated from outside the court building on Royal Street Wednesday to inside, a court official said. Deputy judicial administrator Robert Gunn said the bronze statue has been placed “near the Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson Supreme Court Museum.”

White was the ninth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and, until Amy Coney Barrett took the bench this year, the only Louisianian to ever serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Gunn said in an email Wednesday that the statute of White was authorized by the Louisiana Legislature shortly after his death in 1921 and that the Legislature intended it to be shipped to Washington. But lawmakers conceded to his widow’s wish that the statue be placed inside or outside the state Supreme Court building, which is now in New Orleans.

“After consultation with the Commissioner of Administration and discussions among the Louisiana Supreme Court Justices,” Gunn wrote, “it was unanimously decided that the statue should be relocated to the interior of the courthouse near the court museum.”

White, who fought for the confederacy against the United States, voted as part of the court majority in the Plessy v. Ferguson case out of New Orleans that held that segregated facilities were not in conflict with the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.  White’s court in that case held that laws forcing Black people to sit in separate rail cars than White people didn’t demean them.  

Writing for the majority, Justice Henry Brown wrote, “We consider the underlying fallacy of [Plessy’s] argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

In his email, Gunn, the court administrator, said, “Following the statue’s relocation inside the courthouse, a brief factual statement about Chief Justice White’s accomplishments and his legacy to contextualize his judicial service will be displayed near the statue.”

For years, Take ‘Em Down NOLA, an activist group in New Orleans, has called for an end to all symbols of White supremacy in the city.  The statue of White was one of 17 statues of Confederates and white supremacists the group demanded be taken down.

Four of the 17 were removed in 2017 when then New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu persuaded the New Orleans City Council to take down monuments to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and the Liberty Place Monument which celebrated the White League’s successful overthrow of Louisiana’s Reconstruction-era integrated government.

Two monuments to John McDonogh (a slave owner who left behind money to build city schools) and another monument to Confederate Col. Charles Didier Dreux were forcibly taken down over the summer. Caleb Wassell, 27, was charged with a felony count of simple criminal damage.

Take ‘Em Down NOLA responded to a request for comment by criticizing the court for bringing the statue inside and not removing it altogether. “The fact that they recognized the statue needed to be removed from the front of the building is an admission of guilt as to how problematic he is. So if it wasn’t okay for him to be outside, how is it any better that he be hidden inside?” an email from the group reads.

“We call foul and will not stop our demands until both E.D. White and the remaining 9 symbols, as well as all streets and schools named after white “supremacists” are done away with for good, and replaced with symbols that reflect and enforce the collective power, self-determination, well being and health of the people.” 

Landrieu, responding to a request for comment about the White statue being relocated, wrote in a text message, “Good move. Happy to see it happen.”

The Louisiana Supreme Court announced on Dec. 8 that it is renaming its museum the Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson Supreme Court Museum in honor of the first Black person and only second woman to serve in that capacity. Johnson, who’s retiring, will serve her last day on the bench Dec. 31.





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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.