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Democratic State Lawmakers Call for Removal of Capitol's Confederate Memorials

If Democratic state lawmakers are successful, Confederate memorials like this one will soon be removed from the Capitol's grounds.EXPAND
If Democratic state lawmakers are successful, Confederate memorials like this one will soon be removed from the Capitol's grounds.
Daniel Mayer / Wikimedia Commons

Texas’ Capitol grounds could soon lose seven Confederate memorials if Democratic state lawmakers have their way.

In a letter sent Monday to their Republican chairs, eight Democratic members of the state’s House and Senate administration committees called for the memorials’ removal. The letter comes after protests over the police killings of Black Americans have prompted the nation to confront a past rooted in racism.

State Rep. Carl Sherman, who serves southern Dallas County, said in an interview Tuesday that the Austin memorials represent the “losing team” of the Civil War.

“Why does the team that fought to enslave and exploit human beings for financial gain get a statue to [document] the systemic oppression and racism they fought to preserve?” he said.

“By maintaining these idols and symbols of hate, we’re endorsing their body of work,” he added.

Protests over the highly publicized deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have refocused national attention toward Confederate statues. Critics say these monuments, which were largely mass-produced, hold little historical value and perpetuate racial hostility. Still, the Democratic lawmakers could have difficulty swaying the Legislature’s conservative majority.

Addressed to state Rep. Charlie Geren and state Sen. Bryan Hughes, with Gov. Greg Abbott copied, the letter states that racism is more dangerous than the coronavirus. Around 120,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 so far, but the lawmakers wrote that systemic racism is an even deadlier epidemic.

Geren and Hughes could not be reached for comment. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton had Confederate monuments dismantled in June; last week, the Gainesville City Council voted to remove one of its two statues.

If successful, the Democratic lawmakers would remove the following seven memorials from the Capitol:

  • Portrait of Kentucky-born Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnson
  • Confederate Soldiers’ monument, made up of five bronze figures memorializing the Confederate Army
  • Hood’s Texas Brigade Monument, which includes an engraved Confederate flag and quotes by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
  • Terry’s Texas Rangers Monument, which depicts Confederate Army volunteers led by plantation owner Benjamin Terry
  • Portrait of Confederate President Jefferson Davis
  • Cannons used by Confederates during the Civil War
  • Portrait of Irish-born Confederate officer Dick Dowling

There aren’t any statues of Nazis in Germany, nor of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Sherman said. Memorials that idolize terrorists, fascists and racists should not be housed in the nation’s public venues, he said, especially since the Confederates fought to divide this country.

Just because Confederate militants were part of the South’s history does not make them deserving of monuments, Sherman added.

“We have many people who are in our history but we don’t put monuments up for them. We just put them in our record book,” he said. “I mean, we’ve got serial killers; we don’t put up monuments for them.”

The lawmakers are also calling to rebrand a government building that’s named after Tennessee-born John H. Reagan. Reagan served in the cabinet of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, first as postmaster general and then as treasury secretary. Reagan was also an ardent supporter of slavery and believed that Black people made up an inferior race, according to the letter.

San Antonio state Sen. José Menéndez, who co-signed the letter, said that the memorials represent a dark time in Texas’ history. In those days, white Confederates viewed Black slaves as subhuman chattel, he said.

“When people go, ‘Well, what’s the big deal?’ The big deal is that these were folks who literally fought to break this country apart because they wanted to own people,” Menéndez said.

Another signatory, Dallas state Rep. Rafael Anchía, said that these memorials are symbols of racism and terror. They do not deserve a “place of celebration at the Capitol,” he said.

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“If you support the continued celebration of Confederate leaders and the Confederacy, then it really says something about how you view America and how you view Black lives,” Anchía said.

Anchía emphasized that the letter outlines a “non-exhaustive” list of memorials. That’s why the lawmakers are also asking to create a bipartisan, bicameral working group to review all memorials on Capitol grounds, he said. Upon reviewing a piece’s historical, artistic and social intent, the group would submit its recommendations to the State Preservation Board.

The letter’s authors implored their fellow lawmakers to help them scrub systemic racism from the state’s government. Sherman said that even though Texas’ Legislature is primarily Republican, he believes that the Democratic signatories stand a good chance of having their demands met.

“I think people are expecting more of our leaders, that they will have the political courage to do what’s right,” Sherman said. “Because Lord knows that this is the right time.”

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