A strange on-again off-again drama ensued at Lee Park on Turtle Creek Wednesday after a City Council vote to immediately remove a large equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. A large crane, already looming over the statue during the council debate, seemed ready to yank the statue from its base. But straps were removed at the last minute and work stopped when word arrived of an injunction to stop the removal.
Police on the scene said there would be no removal until the legal situation was sorted out.
Council members spent an hour listening to the public and another hour stating their positions before voting 13-1 today to remove the statue. By late afternoon, police had blocked Turtle Creek Boulevard at North Hall Street, and workers were attempting to loosen the statue from its base.
Hundreds of spectators arrived to watch, including Dallas resident Lajours Taylor.
"Would I say I'm proud? Absolutely," she said. "I am a black American. The Robert E. Lee statue represents slavery. I can tell you that black people have fought and warred with division and not having equal rights and lots of things that have made us feel like second-class citizens. This coming down I feel like puts us a step in the right direction."
Karen Johnson of Mansfield drove to Dallas when she found out the statue might be coming down.
"We have to keep certain things to remind us what we did in the past so we don't do that again," Johnson said. "He was a Confederate only because he was loyal to his home state of Virginia."
A majority of the 40-odd members of the public who spoke to the City Council earlier in the day asked that the statue not be removed — including one who said the wrong side had won the Civil War — but the council and mayor clearly had made up their minds before Wednesday’s lengthy session.
The only member of the council to vote against taking down the Lee statue was Sandy Greyson, who represents a white, upper-middle-class district in North Dallas. Greyson said she voted to leave the statue in place because that was the outcome her constituents favored. Council member Rickey Callahan left the council chamber just before the vote rather than have his name recorded for or against the measure.
Council member Philip Kingston proposed that the council make a clear moral statement condemning the statue. The mayor and the four black council members originally opposed his idea for immediate removal, calling instead for the creation of a task force to debate the city’s position on Confederate monuments.
After thousands of demonstrators gathered at City Hall to endorse of Kingston’s call for a clear condemnation, the mayor and the black council members came around to a watered-down version of his position. But they went to great lengths Wednesday not to give Kingston any credit. Kingston complimented them for their work on the issue and claimed no credit for himself.
“The important part of this process was to set a high moral standard,” Kingston said. "We do not need a task force to tell us right from wrong.” He also rejected a claim repeated by several speakers that taking down Confederate statues would “erase our history,” saying there are still many living reminders of institutional racism.
“I don’t think we are in danger in Dallas of accidentally reinstituting slavery.”
Issues of slavery, racism and the memory of the Confederacy intermingled with multiple mentions of professional football. One speaker compared Lee with Roger Staubach, a legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback in the 1970s and now a major real estate developer.
The speaker called Staubach “a contemporary sports figure that embraced the same high ideals as Robert E. Lee. The similarities are remarkable — integrity, a deep faith, both military academy graduates with a sense of duty.”
If the speaker was trying to butter up council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, Roger Staubach’s daughter, he hit the wrong note. Gates bristled at the comparison and said both of her parents had raised her and her siblings to recognize and reject racism.
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Gates gave a speech in favor of pulling down the Lee statue and included an anecdote in which her father, a native of Cincinnati, told her about encountering racism for the first time in the segregated South when he was a young Navy officer.
She also pinpointed what was probably the main reason most council members wanted the Lee statue down: The white nationalist movement has made Confederate statues a rallying point in a series of racist and neo-Nazi rallies. Removing the statues, Gates said, is an important gesture.
“Sometimes we do symbolic things for symbolic reasons,” she said.
The resolution passed by the council called for the immediate removal of the Lee statue and a deliberative process to follow regarding other Confederate reminders in the city. A task force will report to the council with recommendations.