ST. LOUIS ( --  The bronze statue of King Louis IX, the city's namesake, has stood for more than a century on Art Hill in Forest Park.

On Saturday, a group held a rally at the base of the statue, demanding it be removed from public property.

“The reason behind being out here today is to stand against the statue of King Louis IX, who was anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and an anti- black crusader," Umar Lee, the event's organizer, said. "He does not need to be on public property overlooking our city.”

Lee also helped start a petition calling for the statue's removal. Their petition calls the city’s name “outright disrespect” to its Jewish and Muslim communities. Organizers of the rally claim King Louis' persecution of Jewish people in France long before Adolf Hilter and his role in the crusades are concerns and reason enough to bring the statue down.

Saturday's rally comes one day after President Trump signed an executive order protecting U.S. monuments.

While Lee says their first goal is to get the statue removed, they say next they'll begin a grassroots effort to change the name of the city.

"Confluence' or 'Scott' are two names that have been thought about and I think it would really unify people and bring them together," Lee said. 

During Saturday's rally, many Catholics prayed at the base of the statue and said they want to see it remain.

“This is a religious symbol of everything I hold dear. St. Louis is a citizen of heaven," one woman named Beverly said. "We have to take a stand now, we can't allow mob rule, this is totalitarianism."

Conor Martin said he sat at the statue before the sunrise Saturday morning in an attempt to keep protesters from defacing it. He said several people showed up with chalk and began writing on the ground. 

"I asked if they would not write on the base of the statue with chalk out of my respect for King Louis and they did anyway," he said. "So, once they left, I began cleaning it off and got most of it." 

The words "No KKK, No fascists" were displayed around the statue. 

"We should not have to come out of the Art Museum and be assaulted by this statue," Lee said. "It needs to come down."

However, a fight did happen at the rally.

Officials said a 37-year-old man was slapped several times on his head by a 34-year-old man around 2:15 p.m. during the protest. He was not injured but called police when he got home later.

No arrests have been made at this time, but Monday, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner tweeted out her office was investigating both the incident at Art Hill and one where homeowners pointed guns at protesters in the Central West End. 

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson says she is not in favor of removing the King Louis statue or the renaming of the city. She says its a distraction from work that needs to be done and would do nothing to change the issues St. Louis is facing.

In response to the recent criticism of King Louis IX, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said the King of France is an example of an imperfect man who strived to live a life modeled after the life of Jesus Christ for Catholics. 

Read his full statement here:

 The history of the statue of St. Louis, the King is one founded in piety and reverence before God, and for non-believers, respect for one’s neighbor. The reforms that St. Louis implemented in French government focused on impartial justice, protecting the rights of his subjects, steep penalties for royal officials abusing power, and a series of initiatives to help the poor.

King Louis IX’s renowned work in charity helped elevate him to Sainthood. His daily suppers were shared with numerous beggars, whom he invited to the royal table. On many evenings, he would not let them leave before he washed their feet. He personally paid to feed more than 100 poor Parisians every day. His care for the sick was equally moving; St. Louis frequently ministered to lepers. He also created a number of hospitals, including one for the blind and another for ex-prostitutes.

For Catholics, St. Louis is an example of an imperfect man who strived to live a life modeled after the life of Jesus Christ. For St. Louisans, he is a model for how we should care for our fellow citizen, and a namesake with whom we should be proud to identify. The sword on his statue is not raised for warfare, but rather is held with the blade down—a symbol of peace. In his recent statement on Racism, Justice and Peace, Archbishop Carlson said, in part:

“…Scripture tells us to turn our swords into plow shares. Let us turn our guns into metal. May that metal someday be the statue in our community that stands as a reminder that here, in the Greater St. Louis Region, we chose justice so that there would be peace…”

- Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson

Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of St. Louis

Peace is what St. Louisans hoped for in the new twentieth century when they erected the statue of St. Louis the King—and peace is what St. Louisans still strive toward in this century. 

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is encouraged by the winds of change that are at hand, but believes that this energy of change should be focused on programs and policies that will dismantle racism and create a more equal society for all races and religions. As Catholics, we believe that each person—no matter their race, religion, background or belief—is created in the image and likeness of God. As such, all should be treated with love, respect and dignity. We should not seek to erase history, but recognize and learn from it, while working to create new opportunities for our brothers and sisters.

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