State legislators seek removal of Confederate monuments at Texas Capitol

The Confederate Soldiers Monument stands on the south grounds of the Texas Capitol. A group of Democratic lawmakers have called for its removal, along with other statues and portraits honoring the Confederacy. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Confederate Soldiers Monument stands on the south grounds of the Texas Capitol. A group of Democratic lawmakers have called for its removal, along with other statues and portraits honoring the Confederacy. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Confederate Soldiers Monument stands on the south grounds of the Texas Capitol. A group of Democratic lawmakers have called for its removal, along with other statues and portraits honoring the Confederacy. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Today, visitors are not allowed on the Texas Capitol grounds due to precautions to keep residents safe from the spread of COVID-19. The grounds are quiet, surrounded by yellow caution tape, but normally, the first thing tourists see when they look up to the right as they enter the grounds from Congress Avenue is Jefferson Davis.

A statue of the president of the Confederacy stands in the middle of the Confederate Soldiers Monument, surrounded by four bronze figures representing the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Navy. On the base, the names of the 13 states that withdrew from the Union and famous Civil War battles are inscribed in the stone.

There are other statues honoring the Confederacy on the grounds—memorializing the fighters of Terry's Texas Rangers and John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade—remembering men who fought and died in battle. But after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and protests for racial justice across the country, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said there is growing momentum around the country to interrogate more carefully the cause those men were fighting for.

"When you dig deeper, what they fought for was slavery and dehumanizing people," Howard told Community Impact Newspaper. "The descendants of the slaves have to look at the same commemorative statues and plaques, knowing their ancestors had been persecuted by those very people."

A group of eight Democrats in the Texas House and Texas Senate signed a letter July 20 calling for the removal of those monuments on the Capitol grounds, along with other monuments and portraits honoring members of the Confederacy. The eight lawmakers, who serve on either the House or Senate committees on Administration and addressed the letter to the committee's respective chairs, also called for the renaming of the John H. Reagan State Office Building, located on the northwest corner of the grounds.


"As a life-long Texan, and descendant of slavery, I join this diverse coalition of my colleagues in the House and Senate as we call for the removal of threatening Confederate imagery from the Capitol grounds," wrote state Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, in a media release. "The goal is clear: We must ensure that every walkway and hallway of our Capitol is viewed as a safe space for all Texans."

The ultimate decision to remove Confederate monuments from the grounds may fall to the State Preservation Board, which is chaired by Gov. Greg Abbott and is responsible for maintaining the Capitol building and its grounds.

In 2017, after white supremacist and neo-Nazi rallies to protect Confederate monuments turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, and began a national conversation, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, called for the removal of a plaque in the Capitol near his office that displayed the "Children of the Confederacy Creed."

The plaque, put in place in 1959, said that the Civil War "was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery."

"Confederate monuments and plaques are understandably important to many Texans. But it is important that the historical information displayed on the capitol grounds is accurate and appropriate," wrote speaker Joe Straus in a letter calling for the removal of the plaque. "The Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque on the first floor of the Capitol does not meet this standard."

In 2019, the State Preservation Board, which includes Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, voted unanimously to remove the plaque.

While the previous conversation that began in 2017 revolved around the historical accuracy of the plaque, in 2020, lawmakers are calling for the removal of Confederate monuments not because they are inaccurate, but because of the cause they represent.

"By maintaining idols and symbols of hate we are endorsing their body of work as deserving of high honor. It’s time to remove idols of men who did not love all men, nor did they believe that people of color were created equal by God. There has never been a time so right to do what’s right,” wrote state Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, in a media release.

There has also been a shift in public opinion in the last three years, according to polls conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune. The poll asked Texans the same questions regarding their opinion about Confederate monuments on public property, but posed the questions three years apart.

In October 2017, 38% of poll respondents said the monuments should be removed from view or moved to a museum. In 2020, that number grew to a majority—52%.

The number of respondents who believe the monuments should remain as is with no changes also dropped in the most recent poll as compared to 2017. In 2020, 20% of residents said the monuments should remain unchanged. In 2017, that number was 34%.

Abbott's office, along with state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, and state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney—both members of the House Committee on Appropriations—did not respond to Community Impact Newspaper's request for comment on this story.
By Jack Flagler
Jack is the editor of Community Impact Newspaper's Central Austin and Southwest Austin editions. He began his career as a sports reporter in Massachusetts and North Carolina before moving to Austin in 2018. He grew up in Maine and graduated from Boston University, but prefers tacos al pastor to lobster rolls. You can get in touch at jflagler@communityimpact.com


MOST RECENT

From left: Incumbent Greg Casar is facing off against Louis C. Herrin III and Ramesses Setepenre for the District 4 Austin City Council seat. (Courtesy ATXN)
In Austin City Council’s District 4, candidates discuss addressing homelessness and mental health

Two challengers will face incumbent Greg Casar for the Northeast Austin City Council seat.

Gov. Greg Abbott on July 27 issued an executive order extending the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election. (Screenshot of Sept. 17 press conference)
Lawsuit takes aim at start date for early voting as some Texas Republicans challenge Gov. Greg Abbott's order

A group of prominent Texas Republicans has embarked on a legal effort to undo the governor's executive order that extended the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election.

A photo of Elong Musk
After filing Travis County site plans, Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks to new gigafactory’s place in the company

Tesla has filed the intial site plans for a massive manufacturing plant in southeastern Travis County.

Straying from traditionals like cheese and pepperoni, Tony C's serves specialty pies such as eggplant, prosciutto and goat cheese, and the Truffle Shuffle. (Courtesy Tony C's Pizza & Beer Garden)
Restaurant Tony C's to open Sept. 24 in Round Rock and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

(Graphic illustration by Rachal Russel/Community Impact Newspaper)
From New Braunfels to Cedar Park, Central Texas outdoor recreation shops scrambling to keep inventory

When combined with temporary state restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many local shop owners are speculating a perfect storm of low supply and high demand is the main reason for changes in an industry that has of late been turned on its head.

Austin ISD teachers have been able to teach virtually from their classrooms to start the school year. Some students will return to the classroom Oct. 5. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD teachers adjust to virtual learning as in-person demands approach

Austin ISD teachers and principals discuss the first few weeks of virtual learning.

Early voting runs from Oct. 13-30. Election Day is Nov. 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Find a polling location where you can vote early in Travis County

Voters can cast their ballots at any of the 37 early voting locations from Oct. 13-30.

Mercury Hall will close in 2021. (Courtesy Mercury Hall)
Mercury Hall property cleared for 5-story apartment development

Mercury Hall will close after 2021, and a dense multifamily development is set to arrive in its wake.

Buddy's Burger is open in Northeast Austin off of Cameron Road. (Courtesy Buddy's Burger)
Now open in Austin: Party Barn is back, drive-in movies downtown, burgers in North Austin and more

Blue Starlite began showing drive-in movies downtown in September. Buddy's Burger is open off Cameron Road and planning to expand to more locations, and new bar High Noon is open on the east side.

City Post is located at 113 E. Eighth St., Georgetown. (Courtesy City Post)
Georgetown to get steakhouse, speakeasy plus more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

Easy Tiger announced Sept. 18 it had closed its downtown Austin location on Sixth Street. (Courtesy Easy Tiger)
Easy Tiger announces permanent closure of original Sixth Street location

The local bakery and restaurant remains open at the Linc and still plans to open in South Austin.

A photo of a "sold" sign
Central Austin August housing market numbers show high dollar-volume sales

While housing inventory remains low, home prices continue to rise.