AUSTIN (KXAN) — A statue southeast of the Texas Capitol was vandalized with red paint Sunday morning. The Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed that one of their troopers saw the monument had been spray painted early Sunday morning.
The “Confederate Dead” monument in front of the Capitol along Eleventh Street had red paint splattered on one side, while the other side had the word ‘racists’ written with spray paint.
The monument was erected in 1903 as a memorial for Texas Confederate soldiers.
There is no word yet as to when exactly the vandalism happened. The monument has since been cleaned.
Troopers are investigating this as an act of criminal mischief. DPS says the investigation is still ongoing and no charges have been filed yet as no suspects have been identified. There is a limit to how much we can know about what surveillance was in place when the vandalism happened as DPS does not discuss the security measures they have in place around the Capitol.
According to the Texas State Preservation Board, this monument was created in 1903 by surviving Confederate soldiers to commemorate the lives of fallen Confederates. The sculpture was designed by Frank Teich and sculpted by Pompeo Coppini, featuring figures who represent the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Navy with Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the middle. The monument also lists the Civil War battles and the states which withdrew from the union.
Perceptions of the monument
Marshall Davis, the Public Information Officer for the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans criticized the vandal’s decision to deface state property.
“This is a United States Veteran war memorial,” Davis said, “This monument was built by the surviving Confederate veterans to honor their fallen comrades.”
He said that his chapter has ceremonies several times a year, some of them at this monument on the Capitol grounds.
The monument reads:
“Died for states rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The people of the South, animated by the spirit of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the federal compact in 1861. the North resorted to coercion. The South, against overwhelming numbers and resources, fought until exhausted”
It goes on to list the number of battles and the number of soldiers, both Union and Confederate who enlisted and died.
“I stand in reverence every time I see this monument, I read those words and take them to heart,” Davis said.
Davis also criticized the efforts to boil down the Confederate effort into one word: slavery.
“Think of any other conflict in the history of man whose cause can be boiled down to one word,” he said. “It is a short-sighted, sound bite world that we live in.”
He noted that the monument itself says that the Confederate soldiers were fighting to promote states rights, not slavery.
But Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition believes this statue doesn’t reflect the current community in Austin or in Texas.
“I think the vandalism, while it’s something that I don’t condone and we don’t condone as an organization, I think it’s just a reflection of how sick and tired people really are of having to, you know, just look at and be surrounded by this type of thing,” Moore said.
He remains hopeful that lawmakers look into where the best place would be for this and other Confederate monuments. Moore and AJC support the removal of these confederate monuments and their relocation to museums.
“Maybe the Capitol is overdue for some much-needed renovations,” Moore said. “Like how can we, through art and through sculptures and statues, reflect the Texas that we’ve become? Because those statues or not the Texas that we become, that’s the Texas that we were.”
Moore said history books and museums where context can be offered would be more fitting places for these monuments than the UT Austin Campus or the Texas Capitol.
“Yes, people fought and died for what they believed in, but at the end of the day, these people were fighting for the oppression and both the captivity of the human beings, right?” Moore said. “That’s not something to me that you should get a certificate or a statue for.”
Many visitors from all over the country and all over the world stopped to look at the monument Sunday, many pausing to talk about what its historical significance means.
One visitor was Vicki Osmanski from California.
“I think it’s a beautiful monument, I think it’s a nice tribute to those who have died to protect what they believe to be theirs,” she said.
“We have to learn how both sides lived, how they fought and what they fought for,” she said.
She thinks the act of vandalizing the monument is “horrible.”
In her view, having this memorial on the Capitol grounds is a piece of the discussion in understanding what things were like in the Civil War and during the Reconstruction.
“Of course slavery was a big part of that and we don’t condone that — not now not ever — but that was a different time,” she said.
“If they don’t learn from the past how are they gonna make it better in the future?” Osmanski continued.
Other visitors, like Swapnaa Jayraman from Canada, felt the portrayal of history on the statue leaves some things out.
“Of course I would prefer if they actually said something about slavery and racism, or you know actually really got at the heart of it, but they chose not to,” she said.
Jayraman acknowledges that there is value to a monument which has held a place at the Texas Capitol for 116 years.
“So I wouldn’t want to destroy it by any means,” she said, wondering if it could be moved to a museum. “Why not have a space where it is there and give it the context and say that this is how people felt back then and this is how all these other people felt, and they didn’t get to put their perspectives up there in 1903.”
Jayraman believes it’s important to think about which Americans were able to have their perspectives “etched in stone” in the years following the Civil War.
He brother, who was also at the Capitol visiting, wondered if there was a formal legislative or voting process lawmakers could start that could gauge whether Texans today want this monument featured at their state capitol.
Other changes to Confederate monuments in Austin
At the start of this year, the Texas State Preservation Board voted to remove the “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque from inside the Texas Capitol in a unanimous vote from board members including Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen. That plaque had been created in 1959 and stated that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” Critics of the plaque had called for its removal, saying that it was neither accurate not appropriate
Back in 2015, UT Austin President Greg Fenves announced that a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on campus would be relocated from the Main Mall to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History as part of an educational exhibit. This decision came after the UT president conferred with a task force of alumni, students, and faculty.
Following the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia of 2017, UT leadership decided to remove the three remaining Confederate monuments on the UT campus. Overnight, crews removed the statues depicting John H. Reagan (Confederate Postmaster General), Albert S. Johnston (a Confederate general), and Robert E. Lee ( commander of the Confederate army), with plans to install them at the Briscoe Center. A statue of former Texas Governor James Hogg was also removed.
Hogg’s statue was designed to be displayed with the other three, though, he was not a member of the Confederacy. Hogg had what UT called “a complicated and nuanced legacy” which included both proposing anti-lynching laws and allowing laws to pass that reinforced segregation on railroad cars. The Hogg statue was later reinstalled on campus in the winter of 2018.
The other three statues, however, have not returned to campus. Back in August of 2017, President Fenves suggested that what happened in Charlottesville indicates that these historic monuments are taking on new meanings.
“These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism,” Fenves said in a letter to campus at the time.
“The historical and cultural significance of the Confederate statues on our campus — and the connections that individuals have with them — are severely compromised by what they symbolize” Fenves said in his statement. “Erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the statues represent the subjugation of African Americans. That remains true today for white supremacists who use them to symbolize hatred and bigotry.”
These statues removed from the UT campus– as well as the Jefferson Davis Statue formerly on UT Austin’s campus — were all constructed by Pompeo Coppini, who also made the marble sculptures which make up the Confederate Dead monument at the Capitol.