- Johnathan Silver American-Statesman Staff
As Austin officials start an effort to change the name of Robert E. Lee Road in South Austin, similar efforts are underway to remove symbols of the Confederacy in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio in the wake of last weekend’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
But “tearing down” those symbols won’t change the past nor will it help the nation’s future, Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday.
In Charlottesville, white supremacists were protesting the city’s decision to remove a statute depicting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Their presence drew numerous counterprotesters, and clashes ended with one counterprotester dead and dozens more injured. The violence immediately sparked conversations about race, calls for the removal of Confederate iconography across the country and a bipartisan push for civility.
In San Antonio, two City Council members requested the removal of a 118-year-old Confederate monument two weeks before the Charlottesville violence. About 500 people demonstrated Saturday for and against the monument’s removal, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Five Dallas City Council members have signed a memo calling for the removal of their city’s public Confederate monuments, and Mayor Mike Rawlings said he wants to form a task force to study the issue, according to The Dallas Morning News.
And in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner has asked city staffers to recommend what to do, if anything, with Confederate monuments in the city after an online petition called for the removal of a downtown monument called the Spirit of the Confederacy.
“The important thing is that as we move forward, that we recognize history is also what it is,” Turner said Tuesday, according to the Houston Chronicle. “History has its good. History has its bad. But 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.”
Throughout the country, though, Confederate monuments have already come down since the Charlottesville clashes.
Baltimore “quickly and quietly” removed four monuments overnight Tuesday, the city’s mayor told a local TV station. In North Carolina, protesters tore down a Confederate monument on Monday, then stomped and kicked the toppled statue. According to a New York Times tally on Wednesday, 11 Confederate monuments across the country have come down, and another 11 removals have been proposed.
As Texas city officials weigh their options, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, has his eyes on Confederate monuments inside the Texas Capitol and on its grounds.
“The removal of Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol and its grounds is long overdue. Just forty steps from my office is a plaque that praises the ‘heroic deeds’ of the Confederate Army and states that the underlying cause of the Civil War was not slavery,” Johnson told the American-Statesman. “There is a clear difference between acknowledging historical events and glorifying a distorted version of the past. The Legislature owes it to the people of Texas to remove these false and offensive reinventions of history.”
There are more than 150 Confederate monuments and place names in Texas, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, many in small towns where there is no clamor to change or remove them.
In the South Texas city of Victoria, no one has called for removing a 1912 downtown monument called “The Last Stand,” which depicts a Confederate soldier, Victoria Mayor Paul Polasek told the Statesman.
Symbols from the past can provide teachable moments in the present, Polasek said.
“I think it’s an important reminder of a very different chapter in American history,” he said. “We need to not forget so we never repeat that.”
Abbott also expressed caution when asked for his position on Confederate monuments.
“We must remember that our history isn’t perfect. If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it,” he said in a statement to the Statesman. “Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.”