The long-awaited Texas African American History Memorial will be unveiled Saturday morning at a ceremony at the Capitol grounds.
The event marks the culmination of about 20 years of hard-fought efforts by lawmakers to create a memorial honoring African-American history. A foundation for the memorial raised nearly $3 million for its creation.
“We are thrilled the day has come where African Americans’ stories of struggle, resolve, and triumph will be honored on our Capitol grounds,” said state Rep. Helen Giddings, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, in an emailed statement.
Within an hour or two of that milestone celebration, however, the Capitol grounds are to become the setting for a rally planned by a White Lives Matter group, as well as a counterprotest planned by Smash Fascism Austin, according to Facebook pages for these groups.
White Lives Matter member and protest organizer Ken Reed said the group was unaware of the monument unveiling event when it planned the protest. Reed said the group aimed to protest against what it considers the unequal application of hate crime laws, but that the memorial ceremony had “nothing to do with why we’re there” and the group is “not trying to interrupt or disrupt their event.”
“We feel that the hate crime law is unfairly and unjustly applied to white folk, white people, as opposed to minorities,” Reed said. “We’re asking for equal application of the law.”
Counterprotesters didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday but described their goal on their Facebook page as “to turn out in overwhelming numbers, drown out their message of hate, and show them the people of Austin will not stand for fascists organizing on our streets.”
Shawn Williams, spokesman for the Texas African American History Memorial Foundation, said members of the organization are aware of the protests, and “there is no concern, but the Texas Department of Public Safety is taking the necessary precautions.”
Williams noted that the events are scheduled at different times: The memorial unveiling is slated to start at 10 a.m., followed by a barbeque lunch open to the public. The Smash Fascism Austin protest is scheduled for 11 a.m. and the White Lives Matter protest is scheduled for noon.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Victor Taylor said he couldn’t speak to specific security measures, but the agency will, as always, monitor the events and adjust vigilance and security measures accordingly.
The Capitol is public space, so any group may freely gather there as long as it doesn’t interfere with another organization’s scheduled event, said Chris Currens, director of special projects at the State Preservation Board.
In response to questions about the planned protests, Giddings said, “This day is not about exclusivity, but about bringing people together.”
“The focus of the unveiling ceremony will be on celebrating the rich history and contributions of African-American Texans,” Giddings said. “Saturday will be historic and meaningful not just for African-Americans, but all Texans who value the complete history of our state.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that White Lives Matter hadn’t responded to requests for a comment.