Texas House Speaker Backs Eric Johnson in Effort To Ditch Confederate Plaque at Capitol

State Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas
State Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas Brian Maschino
For nearly a year, West Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson has tilted at a 50-something-year-old windmill, hoping state leaders would finally take down a plaque emblazoned with the "Children of the Confederacy Creed" that sits in Austin's Capitol building. This week, his campaign received a boost from outgoing Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, who submitted an extensive critique of the plaque's historical bona fides and racism to the Texas Attorney General's Office.

The creed featured on the plaque, installed with the permission of Gov. Price Daniel in 1959, is the epitome of lost cause claptrap. It honors the "heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army" and pledges that the children of the Confederacy will study and teach the truths of history, "one of the most important of which is that the war between the states was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery."

After citing statements from Confederate leaders saying that slavery was, in fact, the primary cause of the Civil War, Straus says in his letter that the plaque should be removed at the behest of the State Preservation Board, which the speaker says has authority over the contents of the Capitol.

"Maintaining it in its present location is a disservice to them and to history. The plaque should either be removed or relocated to a place where appropriate historical context can be provided." — Texas House Speaker Joe Straus

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"Every year, thousands of visitors to the Capitol are exposed to this inaccurate plaque," Straus said. "Maintaining it in its present location is a disservice to them and to history. The plaque should either be removed or relocated to a place where appropriate historical context can be provided."

Johnson first met with Gov. Greg Abbott to discuss dumping the plaque in October. At that meeting, Johnson said, Abbott agreed with him that historically inaccurate objects should not be on display at the capitol but said that he didn't know who had the authority to remove the plaque. After their meeting, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked for briefs from all interested parties as to whether the plaque should remain and who should make the final decision.

Like Straus, Johnson said in his brief that he believes it is up to the State Preservation Board to determine the plaque's fate.

“Unfortunately, I have not heard from Gov. Abbott since our meeting in Dallas over seven months ago," Johnson said Wednesday. "I hope that once we receive a formal opinion of the Texas attorney general stating in no uncertain terms that the SPB has the unilateral authority to remove this odious plaque, that Gov. Abbott and the SPB will stop their delay tactics and commence with removing the plaque as I requested over seven months ago."

In a statement to the Observer on Wednesday, Christopher Currens, spokesman for the State Board of Preservation, said the board would wait for guidance before doing anything about the plaque because it's never dealt with a situation like this before.

"The governing statute for the SPB requires separation between policy making responsibilities of the board and management responsibilities of agency staff. Until now, the SPB has never received a building change request form to remove a Capitol historical artifact from one of the 10 historic spaces in the Texas Capitol," Currens said. "Currently the agency has no policy for reference, or past precedent for removal, applicable to the unique situation. The agency looks forward to continuing to work with all parties in resolving this matter."

Abbott's office did not respond to questions Wednesday afternoon about whether the governor submitted a brief regarding the plaque or if he plans to convene the State Preservation Board's governing body to decide what should be done. Now that the Attorney General's Office has been briefed, it's up to Paxton to issue an opinion as to who has authority regarding the plaque. There is no timetable on that decision. 
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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