Louisiana still officially honors Confederate holidays. This bill would change that.

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Robert E. Lee Day and Confederate Memorial Day would be removed as official Louisiana state holidays in a bill that cleared the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday without objection.

Democratic New Orleans Rep. Matthew Willard, who is Black, said he was shocked to learn the Confederate holidays remain on the state books when it was brought to his attention by a constituent.

"I had no clue," Willard said. "I actually didn't believe it. I couldn't in good conscience sit by and not try to change it."

Williard said he is compelled to carry the bill to honor his late grandfather Elliott "Doc" Willard, a well-known New Orleans educator and Civil Rights leader who died in 2012.

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"I know he would turn over in his grave if I didn't try to fix what I consider an injustice," Willard said while testifying on House Bill 248 during the committee hearing. "I plead with you to put yourself in my shoes as a young Black man and how that would affect you.

"It's very emotional to me. I don't think we want to send that message to our children."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Randal Gaines, a Democrat from LaPlace, and New Orleans Democratic Rep. Jason Hughes said Willard's grandfather was an influence on their lives as well as a mentor.

"This bill is no public relations stunt," Hughes said. "I know it's from the heart and it's the right thing to do."

This statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from its pedestal in New Orleans in 2017 and stored in a warehouse. A bill in the Louisiana Legislature would remove Robert E. Lee Day as an official state holiday.

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"'Doc' Willard was a mentor of mine," said Gaines, who said the bill honored Willard's grandfather's memory and legacy.

House Bill 248 advances to the full House for debate.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.