Dallas, Houston Protests Planned as Confederate Monuments Under Fire in Texas

Texas is home to 178 public memorials to the Confederacy, second only to Virginia.

A protest is planned at the Spirit of the Confederacy statue in downtown Houston.  www.houstontx.gov

After a white supremacist allegedly drove a car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville last Saturday, killing activist Heather Heyer, calls for the removal of Confederate statues have spiked across the country — and Texas is no exception.

Protesters clashed in San Antonio last weekend, and demonstrations are planned this Saturday in Dallas and Houston. Over the past week, officials in five of the state’s biggest cities took steps toward removing or renaming Confederate memorials.

Texas hosts 178 public memorials to the Confederacy, more than any state other than Virginia. Many were erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy long after the Civil War ended.

“The monuments are easy to understand; they were placed there by people who were trying to send a message that they wanted white supremacy to either be the law of the land or the practice in the land,” said Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, who announced a proposal Monday to remove the city’s monuments.

“Dallas has a violent and vicious history of racism,” Kingston said. “Getting rid of them would be a symbolic stance saying we’re not that city anymore.”

The Confederate War Memorial in downtown Dallas, dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1896, features statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Johnston and Jefferson Davis.  Wikimedia Commons

Dallas has at least five Confederate memorials, including the Confederate War Memorial, which features a towering 60-foot marble and granite pillar topped by the likeness of an anonymous soldier. Mayor Mike Rawlings also proposed a commission this week to study the matter.

Those proposals face opposition from former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw, who told CBS-DFW that she thinks the statues should stay up. “We don’t want America to think that all African Americans are supportive of this,” Crenshaw said.

A protest billed as “Dallas Against White Supremacy” is set to draw thousands to the war memorial on Saturday. Follow Observer civil rights reporter Michael Barajas for live coverage Saturday.

In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner called Tuesday for an inventory and study of the city’s Confederate monuments.

The city will also be the site of protest Saturday, when demonstrators will gather in Sam Houston Park for an event titled “Destroy the Confederacy.” On Facebook, organizers advised activists “NOT to bring children.”

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue in downtown Houston.  Iván Abrego/flickr

Sam Houston Park contains the Spirit of the Confederacy monument, a bronze statue of an angel holding a palm branch and sword above a plaque reading: “To all heroes of the South who fought for the principles of states’ rights.” In North Carolina, protesters physically removed a Confederate statue earlier this week.

“We always have enough officers on hand to ensure the safety of everybody involved, and not just the safety of persons but the safety of property,” Jodi Silva, a spokesperson with the Houston Police Department, told the Observer. “At none of the assemblies in the past have people destroyed property.” Follow Observer writer John Savage, who will be covering the Houston protest.

In San Antonio, two city council members have submitted a request to consider removing a 40-foot Confederate statue from Travis Park. A militia-like group called This Is Texas Freedom Force is threatening to recall them and any other members who vote to remove it.

In Austin and El Paso, city officials made moves this week to rename roads named for Robert E. Lee. And at the statewide level, Representative Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, brought the fight to the Capitol — which hosts at least 12 Confederate symbols.

Children of the Confederacy
A plaque in the hall that rings the Capitol’s main rotunda. It declares the Civil War was not fought over slavery. Representative Eric Johnson has called for its removal.  Kelsey Jukam

“I cannot think of a better time than the present to discuss the removal of all Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol Complex,” wrote Johnson in a letter Wednesday to the State Preservation Board. “… The Confederacy exemplified treason against the United States and white supremacy.”

Texas’ 1861 “declaration of causes” makes clear the state seceded to maintain slavery, which it called “mutually beneficial to both bond and free.”

Governor Greg Abbott responded Wednesday, arguing the monuments should stay.

Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and grassroots movements for the Observer. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees. You can contact him at [email protected]

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