City Hall

Latest Chapter in Dark Dallas History May Be Restoring Confederate Statues

Did Dallas escort the Lee statue off its plinth and protect it so that it could be restored?
Did Dallas escort the Lee statue off its plinth and protect it so that it could be restored? Brian Maschino
Dear Whoever It Is:

Face it. The South lost the war. It was about slavery. American slavery was a monumental evil, and it will remain a monumental evil for all of time.

That damned Robert E. Lee statue we tore out last year is never coming back, never ever, just forget about it. And the only thing to do with the grotesque rebel monument next to City Hall is knock it down, grind it into gravel and pour it over the McCommas Bluff landfill.

We don’t know who you are exactly (we can guess) because you lack the balls to step forward and state your case for the world to see. But we can sure see your grubby paw prints all over this latest proposal by the city manager for what to do with Dallas' remaining rebel statues.

According to a memo sent to the City Council last week by the city manager, the city wants to “promote acknowledgement of past racial injustices and atrocities.” To do so, the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs “is considering a scope of work and contract with a local artist who is uniquely qualified to bring some additional expertise and staff resources to these efforts at Pioneer Cemetery and for the Confederate Monument.”

Let me unpack that. The Confederate monument next to City Hall is a semicircle of crudely made, facially grotesque statues of Confederate soldiers and officers put up in 1896, the year the Supreme Court essentially codified racism and brought Reconstruction to an end in Plessy v. Ferguson.

"The Office of Cultural Affairs has solicited proposals for the Lee base to be removed, pieces numbered and stored archivally in city-owned storage. ... In total this work is expected to cost $223,000." — T.C. Broadnax

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That was the year that your people, whoever you are, thought they had won the Civil War after all. The erection of the Dallas Civil War monument, mind the word, was a celebration of that victory.

The monument originally was installed south of downtown. In 1961, it was moved to its current location to make way for construction of the R.L. Thornton Expressway, which was named for one of leading figures in the Ku Klux Klan in Dallas. So pretty much every single thing about that monument, from its birth to its later life, has been an endorsement of racism, slavery, the Klan, segregation and racial discrimination.

That’s what it stands for. That’s all it stands for, because people can’t stand for that stuff and stand for anything else. That’s it.

So you, whoever you are, have somehow jawboned our new city manager into proposing that there may be some way to art-ify this monumental obscenity and allow it to stand. And, by the way, I’m taking it easy on the new city manager, who isn’t from here, because I don’t know what else he can do.

You’ve got black members of the City Council on your side. That’s so bizarre. You especially have Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, who defeated the council’s original plan to obliterate the damn thing. So Caraway is the public face of your efforts to open the door for this ghastly attempt at a restoration. I guess you think you’re terribly clever.

I don’t know how you got Caraway in your pocket. It’s regrettable and embarrassing that City Manager T.C. Broadnax can’t stand up to you more forcefully. Obviously, I am not going to change your mind about slavery or the war. But you need to understand this much about art: Art is not a deodorizer, some chunk of perfumed wax that you can plunk into a urinal to hide the scent of urine. Those don’t even work on urine, if you’ve not noticed. Art is not rouge for the corpse. Art does not hide the worms.

The thing that would do for you what you seek here is not art but decoration. You want to hire someone to decorate the Civil War Monument because you think it can be rendered inoffensive by prettification. You are a fool.

There is another telltale in the city manager’s memo. The memo goes into great detail to describe what must be done with the empty stone base that once supported the Robert E. Lee statue removed by crane on Sept. 14, 2017, a day to remember. The city manager says in his memo:

“The Office of Cultural Affairs has solicited proposals for the Lee base to be removed, pieces numbered and stored archivally in city-owned storage. The landscaping work to grade, irrigate and re-sod the site would be performed by Park and Recreation.

“In total this work is expected to cost $223,000 and take approximately 6-7 weeks. In order to expedite this project, I will request City Council ratification of this contract and expenditures in the fall or at the conclusion of discussions and other actions related to the Confederate Monument and Pioneer Cemetery.”

A quarter of a million bucks to store the base “archivally” somewhere? The pieces of it have to be numbered? What the hell? I spoke about this whole business last week with Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston.

“The intentional vagueness around the Confederate war memorial,” Kingston said, “and the veiled suggestion that they may be talking to an artist to try to reconceptualize it is an attempt by [the city manager] to bring back this issue without talking about taking down the Confederate war memorial.

“There is another important part of this memo, and it is the insane level of detail assigned to a task that should be the work of one backhoe in an afternoon, taking apart the base of the Lee statue, carefully cataloguing each piece for secure storage.”

Kingston says he thinks the whole approach is a stall, made possible by Caraway, to protect the war memorial and the Lee statue, keeping them in the possession of the city and in good condition, so that the Lee statue may be brought back and reinstalled and the war memorial preserved.

“So this isn’t just, ‘Oh, we’re going to duck out on taking down the war memorial,’” He said. “This is about the whole restoration of all of the glory of the Old South.”

The city has said from the beginning that the Lee statue would not be destroyed. It is conceivable that the preservation of the plinth on which it stood could have in mind selling the whole package, plinth and all, to some collector later on, although I’m having a hard time imagining how we get our quarter-million dollars back on the plinth.

click to enlarge
The city manager says it will cost a quarter-million dollars to get rid of the base.
Jim Schutze
Be that as it may, Kingston makes a compelling argument. All of these extremely odd and expensive measures, art-ing up the war memorial and treating the Lee statue and its plinth as if they were national treasures (not my nation), have the undeniable effect of paving the way for a restoration.

That’s why artifacts like these get pulled down by horses and smashed into rubble in revolutions. The things are not art. They are weapons of evil. Their prominence, their very existence is a thumb in the eye of justice.

We tear these things down and destroy them as a means of making sure they cannot be restored, ever. Every day they continue to stand, obstinate beneath their obscene decoration, or lurk in some warehouse, their parts carefully numbered, is a day when they can still come back. You know that. Of course you do.

Here is what you don’t know: Every day that junk persists in any form is a day when history will hate them and you even worse.

Last weekend, community activist John Fullinwider and artist Giovanni Valderas began what I hope will be a regular weekend activity in the area near City Hall. They were in the area where large groups of tourists often gather on weekend to view the park with the longhorn cattle statues celebrating the fake cattle drive history that never took place here. (You love that Fort Worth cowboy stuff, don’t you? Cowboy history, even when it’s fake here, is always better than the story of what did happen here.)

“The Confederate war memorial is a shrine to white supremacy, and it has no place in a modern, diverse city." — John Fullinwider

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They’re calling it the Shame of Dallas Tour. In announcing it, Fullinwider said, “Our message for tourists and others is, ‘Enjoy the bronze cattle, but don’t miss the racist monument that is the shame of Dallas.’

“The Confederate war memorial is a shrine to white supremacy, and it has no place in a modern, diverse city,” he said.

Valderas said, “As an artist, I believe we should be honoring the people who fought against slavery, not the leaders who almost destroyed this country to preserve slavery.

“Artists lift up humanity, but this racist memorial degrades the human spirit. I’m standing with the ‘Take Them Down, Dallas’ movement.”

Fullinwider said, “We think once people learn what these statues are all about, they will help us take them down.”

Do you not see, when you look at what Fullinwider and Valderas are doing, what the course ahead for you must be? The entire long arc of history rises up out of the stinking swamps of racism and soars away from you. You can salt away your grubby little icons and plot their return, but you will never turn the tide of human history.

Let’s say Kingston is right and there is some crazy right-wing plot of restoration afoot in the Texas Legislature, speaking of fetid swamps. Imagine that you succeed in getting the Nazi wingdings to pass a law forcing Dallas to restore the carefully preserved Lee statue on its numbered and preserved plinth.

What do you think happens after that? If that statue goes back up, if the bizarre Caraway plan to rouge up the war memorial takes place, then Fullinwider and Valderas will be presiding over the biggest tourist attractions in the city. Do you think people will be going there to admire you? You really do not get out enough.

That will be the latest chapter. Chapter One: Kennedy Assassination. Chapter two: Dallas Cowboys. Chapter Three: TV Show. Chapter Four: Five Cops Killed. Chapter Six: Restored the Civil War Statues.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze