“Monumental” at Last: Oscar Dunn honored in new legislation to be signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards

Nearly 150 years after Louisiana Gov. William Pitt Kellogg approved a bill to erect a monument to Oscar Dunn that never got made, a new bill has passed the state legislature and awaits approval by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. The bill dedicates $75,000 to erecting a memorial to Dunn, Louisiana’s—and the nation’s—first Black lieutenant governor. Dunn’s career and sudden, mysterious death during the rise of post-Reconstruction white supremacy were the subjects of THNOC’s 2021 graphic history, Monumental: Oscar Dunn and His Radical Fight in Reconstruction Louisiana.

Not long after Lt. Gov. Oscar James Dunn died unexpectedly in November 1871, the Louisiana state legislature passed a bill that would establish a $10,000 memorial fund to create a monument in memory of their fallen leader. In March 1873, Gov. William Pitt Kellogg approved the bill, but for unknown reasons the monument never got made. Now, 150 years later, a bill seeking to fulfill that promise has unanimously passed the Louisiana legislature. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign the bill into law later this June.  

Rep. Rodney Lyons of Marrero authored HB 739, which “provides for the placement of a bust or other appropriate memorial to Oscar James Dunn within Memorial Hall in the state capitol” in Baton Rouge and allocates $75,000 out of the state general fund to create the memorial. Lyons, a member of the Gretna-based Masonic lodge named for Oscar Dunn, has long wanted to establish a permanent memorial to his lodge’s namesake. “I feel really great about the passing of the bill,” Lyons said. “I am hoping that now all young kids who visit the capitol as well as other places where Black history is taught will finally get to the discussion of all of the many positive impacts that Dunn has had on the state of Louisiana. He was a true statesman of his time.”

Lyons consulted with Dr. Brian Mitchell and Nick Weldon, co-creators of Monumental, the award-winning graphic history published by THNOC last year. (Mitchell and Weldon also appeared on a popular episode of WWNO’s TriPod series that explored the mystery surrounding Dunn’s death and the monument to him that was never made.) Mitchell, a distant relative of Dunn’s, has spent much of his career advocating for a proper accounting of his ancestor’s trailblazing career.

“I thank Rep. Lyons and the state legislature for their commitment to preserving and protecting the memory and legacy of the late Lt. Gov. Oscar James Dunn, the nation’s first Black executive officer,” Mitchell said. “Dunn, the man and politician, was the personification of so many great attributes and was a shining example of responsible leadership and stewardship.” —THNOC Staff

“Monumental” at Last: Oscar Dunn honored in new legislation

Political poisoning? The mysterious death of America's first Black lieutenant governor, Oscar Dunn

Video: How the forgotten story of Oscar Dunn was reconstructed using archival sources and comic flair

A Black vice president in 1872? Louisiana’s Oscar Dunn could have been, thanks to his relationship with Ulysses S. Grant

This isn't Homer Plessy, so why do we keep using this photo to honor him?

Video: Why the story of Oscar Dunn belongs in the classroom

Video: WRC Symposium 2021: “Oscar Dunn and His Radical Vision for Louisiana”