“There’s no reason that Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, a city with a black mayor, should have Confederate statues on display in 2017.”
A week after a ferocious and fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, about 300 people gathered for a “Destroy the Confederacy” protest in downtown Houston.
“These statues remind black people of all the horrible things racist white folks have done,” Houston Black Lives Matter organizer Ashton Woods told the Observer Saturday afternoon near Sam Houston Park. “Their existence only encourages racist white people to keep doing crazy crap.”
In Dallas, organizers appeared to deliver on their promise of a large turnout at city hall for a rally against white supremacy, which they billed as an anti-racist response to the mayhem in Charlottesville the weekend prior. Several hundred filled the plaza carrying signs against the Klan, neo-Nazis, Trump and Confederate statues by the time speakers addressed the crowd around 7:30 pm.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the “Spirit of the Confederacy” monument in a leafy corner of Houston’s Sam Houston Park in 1908. Confederate memorials often feature rifle-welding sentinels, but the Houston memorial depicts a 12-foot-tall nude male angel holding a sword and palm leaf.
“To all the heroes of the South who fought for the principles of states rights,” reads an inscription.
Prior to the demonstration, Woods warned that the event could turn violent — on Facebook he advised attendees “NOT to bring children” — but the protest stayed relatively calm and no arrests were reported.
In an effort to pre-empt violence and protect the statue, dozens of Houston Police Department officers closed the park to protesters, who gathered on a nearby street. A few dozen pro-Confederate demonstrators, several donning body armor and brandishing semi-automatic rifles, were kept about 100 feet away from anti-Confederate protesters by officers on horseback.
In Dallas, the crowd cheered as protesters dragged a giant Trump effigy, flanked by a sign that said “Impeach the racist in chief,” to the front of the rally. Just a block away, outside the city convention center, state police guarded a Confederate war memorial from behind a barricade.
Many of the speakers urged city leaders to tear down those monuments. In a thundering address, Rev. Michael Waters of Dallas’ Joy Tabernacle AME Church referenced a 1910 lynching in the city. He said calling the city inclusive or progressive “is a lie as long as those monuments continue to stand in the city of Dallas. White supremacy has a body count.”
“This monument has been around since 1908 and never hurt nobody,” said Vince Powers, a 56-year-old counter-protester from New Waverly, about 60 miles north of downtown Houston. Powers wore a Confederate flag T-shirt and waved a Confederate flag during the protest.
“The Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Southerners just wanted to be left alone,” Powers insisted.
Academic consensus holds that slavery was precisely the cause of the war, and Texas’ Ordinance of Secession, the document that officially separated Texas from the Union in 1861, states that Texas seceded because non-slave-holding states “demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the Confederacy.”
Asked about black Texans who might find the monument offensive, Powers replied: “Too bad.”
Since the fatal Charlottesville protest, the debate over memorials that glorify the Confederacy has reached a fever pitch. City officials in Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and San Antonio reacted quickly and took steps toward removing or renaming Confederate memorials. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner ordered a study of Houston’s Confederate monuments. There are at least two such memorials in the Bayou City and at least 178 throughout Texas. A large rally is expected Saturday night in Dallas.
“I do think it’s important for us to review our inventory and then to make the most appropriate decision that’s in the best interest of our city and that does not glorify those things that we shouldn’t be glorifying,” Turner said Tuesday during a city council meeting.
Woods, the Black Lives Matter activist, said he thinks Turner will remove the statues.
“There’s no reason that Houston, the fourth largest city in the country, a city with a black mayor, should have Confederate statues on display in 2017,” Woods said.