AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A group of Democratic lawmakers in Texas want seven memorials which pay tribute to Confederate leaders removed from the state Capitol grounds.
In a letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Administration committees, the eight Democrats say amid the coronavirus outbreak, “a far more deadly epidemic has captured the attention of the global community.”
“Unlike the coronavirus, this ailment is not new; this illness has plagued the United States since its inception — racism,” they write.
Protests nationwide sparked by deaths of African-Americans like Houston native George Floyd, the letter states, and “conversations have begun regarding criminal justice reform, law enforcement priorities, issues related to race relations, and the age-old debate related to Confederate monuments and memorials.”
The state lawmakers write that they find themselves at a crossroads. “Will we situate ourselves on the right side of history by removing these symbols of hostility, or will we continue to side with “tradition” and ignore the ills of our past?”
The seven tributes in question include:
- Albert Sidney Johnston Portrait (Senate Chamber)
- Kentucky-born Confederate General
- Cannons (South Entrance & South Grounds)
- Field artillery used by the Confederates during the Civil War
- Confederate Soldiers’ Monument (South Grounds)
- Five bronze figures memorializing the Confederate Army
- Dick Dowling Portrait (House Chamber)
- Irish-born Confederate Officer
- Hood’s Texas Brigade Monument (East Grounds)
- Includes the Confederate flag carved into the monument; accompanied by quotes by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate General Robert E. Lee
- Jefferson Davis Portrait (Senate Chamber)
- President of Confederacy
- Terry’s Texas Rangers Monument (South Grounds)
- Volunteers in the Confederate Army led by plantation owner Benjamin Terry
The group also requested initiation of a formal process to rename the John H. Reagan State Office Building, which serves as an office for House personnel and human resources. John Reagan served in the cabinet of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
State Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, said the memorials signal to those who visit— and work at— the Capitol that Texas venerates the legacy of the Confederacy.
“Imagine how he feels as a descendant of slavery, as a black woman, to walk in the Capitol grounds and see life size, portraits, and life size images of men who fought for the very right for me not to be, fought for the systematic oppression of me, fought to continue the enslavement of my people, people who if they had had their way… I would not be a sitting state legislator, my daughter would not be attending an integrated public school,” Thierry said in an interview.
“The goal is clear,” she stated, “We must ensure that every walkway and hallway of our Capitol is viewed as a safe space for all Texans.”
“We see protests after protests around the country addressing the fact that African Americans are continually being oppressed and Dealing with brutality, racism, discrimination on so many levels,” Thierry said Monday. “So while this is an overdue conversation, it’s not the first time we’ve brought this issue to the forefront of Capitol leadership, we feel now the time is right, and we would be remiss if we did not move the conversation completely forward and do something to once and for all remove these terroristic images on our Capitol grounds.”
DeSoto Democrat Carl Sherman said “there has never been a time so right to do what’s right.”
“It’s one of those moments were after watching George Floyd of Houston, Texas, a native of Houston, Texas, that I think America was awakened and has seen what many people of color have experience over many years,” Sherman said.
State Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, called the Confederate monuments “symbols of oppression” in a tweet demanding they be removed.
The letter-writers also requested the formation of a bipartisan, bi-chamber working group “to conduct a thorough review of the artistic, social, and historical intent and significance of all honorific memorials and symbols on the Capitol grounds.”
This letter is the latest in a years-long discussion at the state level about monuments which honor the state’s sometimes troubling past.
A “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque in a Capitol hallway near the rotunda was removed last year after more than a year of calls for its ouster. That plaque inaccurately stated slavery was not an underlying cause of the Civil War.
Last week, the Black Chiefs of Staff of the Texas Legislature requested the removal of all confederate commemorations from the Texas Capitol Grounds.
“For us and many others, this is a painful reminder of how we are still not yet seen as equals in a state we fight to make better every day,” they wrote. “We do not need statues and memorials to remind us of a past full of hate, treason, and segretation.”
“Let’s find and use symbols that will build bridges to unit and not divide us,” the chiefs of staff wrote in their letter, which also called for criminal justice and law enforcement reforms.
As of this writing, voicemails to the offices of State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the House Adminstration Committee and State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who chairs the Senate Administration Committee have not yet been returned. Each serve on the State Preservation Board’s governing board. The SPB preserves and maintains the Capitol and grounds.
Messages to the offices of Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who serve as SPB chair and co-vice chairs, respectively, were not immediately returned.
“Anytime you’re talking about removing something that some want to preserve in a public venue, then it is possible that there could be a challenge,” Sherman said. “But you know, the last few weeks I have seen individuals change their hearts in their minds about this position.”
Though the board unanimously voted last year to remove the ‘confederacy creed’ plaque, Abbott said in 2017 the state must learn from its past and ensure it doesn’t happen again, instead of trying to bury it.
“Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future,” he said in 2017.
Patrick said in 2017 that Texas should not attempt to “re-write history by removing evidence of people or events that we can learn from.”
A message to the SPB office was not yet returned as of Monday afternoon.