By James Barragán
Originally Reported in the Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN — A group of Democratic lawmakers on Monday called for the removal of Confederate memorials on the Texas Capitol’s grounds after weeks of protests against racism and police brutality this summer.
In a letter to the Republican leaders of the Senate and House administration committees, the Democrats on those committees called for the removal of seven monuments or memorials tied to the Confederacy. They pointed to the protests after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery as the catalyst for the discussion on racism.
“Today, we find ourselves 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 Democrats wrote.
Rep. Carl Sherman, a freshman DeSoto Democrat who is Black, was among those who called for their removal.
“By maintaining idols and symbols of hate we are endorsing their body of work as deserving of high honor,” Sherman said in a statement. “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.”
The Republican leaders of the committees, Fort Worth state Rep. Charlie Geren and Mineola state Sen. Bryan Hughes, did not respond to a request for comment.
The group of eight Democrats, which also included Dallas state Rep. Rafael Anchía and state Sen. Nathan Johnson, called for the removal of:
- A portrait of Albert Sidney Johnston in the Senate Chamber. Johnston was a Confederate general.
- Field artillery used by the Confederacy during the Civil War that sit on the south entrance to the Capitol and the south grounds.
- The Confederate Soldiers’ Monument on the south grounds.
- A portrait of Dick Dowling, an Irish-born Confederate officer in the House chamber.
- Hood’s Texas Brigade Monument on the east grounds, which includes a carving of the Confederate flag and quotes from Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee.
- A portrait of Davis in the Senate chamber.
- A monument on the south grounds to Benjamin Terry’s Texas Rangers, a group of Texas volunteers who fought with the Confederacy.
They also called for the renaming of the John H. Reagan State Office Building. Reagan served as postmaster general and secretary of Treasury in Davis’ Confederate cabinet. He supported slavery and said publicly that African American slaves were “incapable of self-government” and an inferior race.
The removal of Confederate tributes has been a controversial issue at the Capitol, where many Republicans, who dominate both chambers of the Legislature, see their removal as an attack on the state’s history. Some lawmakers are descendants of people who fought for the Confederacy, and several statewide groups have pressured politicians to keep the monuments in place.
Last year, Republican lawmakers filed bills to make removing Confederate monuments more difficult, but they did not pass.
There are also lawmakers who are descended from African American slaves and freedmen. They say the monuments are painful reminders of the brutality of slavery and that the Confederacy fought to keep them from being less than equal citizens.
“Life-size images of men who actually fought to oppress and enslave the entire Black race continue to perpetuate the generational trauma of racism,” said Houston state Rep. Shawn Thierry, a descendant of slaves. “The time is overdue to correct the record as we can no longer glorify those who fought to uphold the barbaric practice of slavery.”
The Democrats also called for a review of all honorific and memorial symbols on the Capitol grounds to determine their “artistic, social and historical significance.” That review would be conducted by a bipartisan group appointed by House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the minority leaders in each chamber of the Legislature.
Once complete, the findings would be sent to the State Preservation Board, which cares for the Capitol grounds, with recommendations. That board is made up of Gov. Greg Abbott, Bonnen, Patrick, one additional state representative, one state senator and a member of the public.
Bonnen and Patrick did not respond to a request for comment. Bonnen has previously expressed support for removing a Confederate plaque that was historically inaccurate.
Last year, Patrick promised a review of the 19 portraits that hang in the Senate after long discussions over a bill designed to make it harder to remove Confederate monuments. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who is Black, said a portrait of Johnston in the chamber was a constant reminder of the Confederacy and that if it had succeeded he would not be a member of that body.
The review would have been due Sept. 1, 2020, but that bill did not pass.
Patrick said the review, to be led by a committee chaired by Hughes, would take place whether or not the bill became a law. The status of that review is unclear.
During his time as a state representative, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson fought to remove a plaque from the Capitol that contained the Children of the Confederacy creed, which, until recently claimed to “teach the truths of history … one of the most important of which is, that the war between the states was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”
Texas’ reasons for seceding from the United States included “the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery.”
Johnson, who is Black, succeeded in getting the plaque removed from the Capitol, but state officials had not determined where to house the item
as of last year.