Above: Members of the State Preservation Board, left to right: state Representative Jeff Leach, R-Plano, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and citizen board member Aletha Swann Bugg.
Since the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville a year and a half ago, Texas officials have faced increasing demands to purge the statehouse of a plaque that says the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. On Friday, in a cursory meeting lasting fewer than 3 minutes, a state board chaired by Governor Greg Abbott finally voted to remove the slavery-denying plaque from the Capitol, where it’s hung since the civil rights era.
State Representative Eric Johnson, a Dallas Democrat who filed a request with the State Preservation Board to remove the plaque last year, called the board’s rapid-fire meeting perfunctory, devoid of emotion and “jarring.” “I think anyone that’s been around this building for a while knows that that’s not how these things normally go,” Johnson told reporters after the vote. He said he’s seen lawmakers show more emotion “discussing a bill on how we’re going to tax dry cleaners.”
To Johnson and others calling for the removal of the so-called Children of Confederacy Creed, which is currently mounted on the main floor near the Capitol rotunda, the plaque should be part of a larger conversation around Confederate markers and monuments. While some Texas cities have toppled Confederate statutes or renamed schools honoring rebel generals, Abbott and other Republican leaders have largely been reluctant to talk about the plaque, let alone the numerous other Confederate markers prominently placed around the Capitol grounds.
Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who also sit on the preservation board, were all mum after Friday’s vote, dodging reporters who’d gathered outside a small conference room behind the Senate chambers. None of them responded to requests for comment on Friday.
State Representative Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who was tapped to sit on the board the day before the vote and made the motion to remove the plaque at the meeting, was the most vocal after Friday’s unanimous decision, telling the Texas Tribune, “If I had a sledgehammer in my office, I’d go up there right now and remove it.” Officials haven’t yet announced where the plaque will be relocated or when.
As for Johnson, he’s pleased the plaque will finally come down, but said Friday’s vote isn’t a time for self-congratulations. Johnson’s Capitol office is near the plaque. When he walked by it, he says, he’d think of schoolchildren on field trips reading the creed as they toured the statehouse — learning that the Civil war “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” He thought about generations of teachers reading the plaque aloud to their classes, some of them stopping halfway through when they realized what it said.
“This is not really a time for any back-slapping or any high-fiving,” Johnson said. “The reality is that plaque never should have gone up in the state Capitol in the first place, and it shouldn’t have taken 60 years to take it down.”