City Hall

Dallas Confederate Memorial Could Be on the Way Out Unless Mayor Gets His Way

Dallas' Confederate war memorial should be removed, the city's Confederate Monuments Task Force said.
Dallas' Confederate war memorial should be removed, the city's Confederate Monuments Task Force said. Mark Arthur
The city's Confederate war memorial, cozily situated between City Hall and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, could be on its way out after a slim majority of the Dallas City Council expressed support for its removal Wednesday.

Late last week, it looked like the towering statue might receive a reprieve from a Dallas Confederate Monuments Task Force recommendation that it be removed. City staff recommended that, rather than paying the $430,000 it will cost to get rid of the monument, the city should place plaques around it to put it in context.

Counting votes on the council during a briefing meeting can be a bit like trying to figure out how the Supreme Court's going to rule from oral arguments. At least seven council members appear set on removing the statue, and three others support get rid of the memorial but are open to a compromise based on cost considerations. 

"The inscriptions make it quite clear that [the memorial] is absolutely a monument to white supremacy." — Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston

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"This is not a historical marker. There was never any intent to teach history or honor historical figures," City Council member Philip Kingston said. "The inscriptions make it quite clear that [the memorial] is absolutely a monument to white supremacy."

Kingston went on to blast city staff for making a recommendation that he believes contradicts direction given by the City Council in September, when it passed a resolution calling for the task force and city staff to determine how Dallas' Confederate markers would be removed, not if they should be removed.

"We have two problems here. One is we still have this Confederate monument that is completely inconsistent with the public policy of the city of Dallas and making Dallas a 21st century city. ... It is quite obviously an object of shame that needs to be removed," Kingston said. "That's the substantive problem we have today.

"We have another problem that staff has created. In September, this body set forth a crystal-clear statement of public policy and demanded that the monuments come down. ... Staff's recommendation [to keep the memorial] creates a [city] charter dilemma. This is not unlike the president ignoring Congress."

Casey Thomas joined Kingston in calling for the monument's removal, saying that preserving the statues would reinforce white privilege in the city of Dallas.

"We shouldn't just put [the task force recommendations] aside," Thomas said. "We've got to make sure Dallas is an equitable city. You can't expect individuals in a race, when someone starts with a 100-yard lead, to catch up."

Kingston, Thomas and the other council members supporting the monument's removal — including Mark Clayton, Omar Narvaez and Kevin Felder — received surprising support from Lee Kleinman, one of the council's most conservative members, who said that he hadn't really given the memorial much thought growing up in Dallas. That changed when a fellow council member asked him how he would feel if there were a statue in the city glorifying the Holocaust.

"To be quite honest with you, I am somewhat ashamed that I grew up in this city seeing that on a regular basis and never even thinking that was a problem," said Kleinman, who is Jewish.

Add Scott Griggs and Adam Medrano, both of whom consistently vote with their progressive colleagues on the council, and it seems that there are eight votes for removal, even without the support of Dwaine Caraway and Tennell Atkins, who supported the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from Oak Lawn Park last year but indicated Wednesday that they could support a compromise on the memorial.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings could lead the push for a potential compromise. On Wednesday, after saying he was "chilled" by the "scary" war memorial, he said he agreed with city staff that the monument should remain in place, but with added context. Rawlings envisioned kids on school buses visiting the monument after going to the Perot Museum downtown.

A council vote on the final disposition of the war memorial is expected next month.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young