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Don't Let the Doorknob Hit You: Confederate War Memorial Is Coming Down, Council Decides

Dallas' Confederate War Memorial is on life support after the City Council voted Wednesday to take it down.
Dallas' Confederate War Memorial is on life support after the City Council voted Wednesday to take it down.
Mark Arthue

Barring intervention from Dallas' preservation board, the Confederate War Memorial that towers over Pioneer Plaza downtown is coming down. The Dallas City Council voted 11-4 Wednesday afternoon to remove the statue, which was built in 1896 and moved downtown in 1961 to accommodate freeway construction.

"I want to be free of the delusions of white supremacy," Dallas community organizer John Fullenwider said before the vote. "I hope you'll do the right thing today. Let's take down this godforsaken monument and affirm the full humanity of all who live here today."

Despite a majority of the council saying that they supported taking the statue down at a briefing last week, council member Jennifer Staubach Gates made a last-ditch effort to keep it standing, asking her colleagues to again consider "recontextualizing" the monument.

"I think it's very controversial in our city, because I don't think people of our city have taken the time," Gates said, explaining that Dallas residents might support keeping the monument if they just knew its history. "If we just remove it, we are going to lose that opportunity to have those discussions."

The "context" for the memorial is that it was erected in 1896 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy vs. Ferguson, enshrining "separate but equal" as national law. It was dedicated in 1897, less than two decades before President Woodrow Wilson, that notorious racist liar, introduced segregation into federal employment. It was, and is, a piece of dishonest Southern "lost cause" propaganda that's as much a celebration of the failure of Reconstruction and the crushing injustice of Jim Crow as anything else.

Or so we, at least, learned in the long months of debate, reporting, editorializing and rationalization that preceded Wednesday's vote.

Gates was joined in her push to keep the monument by Rickey Callahan, the council's biggest Confederate monument supporter. Callahan wanted to keep the Robert E. Lee statue in Oak Lawn Park, and he wasn't going to give up the memorial without one last fight.

"My attitude is that our history is sometimes bloody, unjust and ultimately wrong, but it's our history," said Callahan, who drew boos from the crowd when he said his dad had an "African-American best friend."

"I just won't stand for you to peel away and tear the history down ... I'll never quit fighting, I'll never quit," Callahan said.

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Casey Thomas, one of the council members who's pushed the hardest to get rid of the statues, echoed the feelings of many when he said it was time to move on from the statue and its history.

"At some point in time we have to acknowledge the sins of the past," Thomas said. "What symbols do we want to represent the city of Dallas?"

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who initially supported "recontextualizing" the monument, voted Wednesday to take it down.

He said, "We should all come together, take this statue down and move on together in a united way for this city."  

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