The main components of a long-awaited Texas African American History Memorial were installed on the south lawn of the Capitol on Tuesday.
The sculpture’s large bronze friezes were moved into place over the course of several hours, although work at the site of the memorial has been underway for months. The sculpture is dedicated to the experiences of African-Americans in Texas, and it is the first monument on the Capitol grounds to commemorate black history.
It is expected to be completed in late October and unveiled by the end of the year.
“In some states, they feel they’ve got a history they’ve got to live down and all this is a reminder,” said Ed Dwight, the Denver-based artist who created the memorial. “This is part of people’s history, and you can’t walk away from the reality of it all. … Each state has experienced slavery and civil rights in a different way because they had different laws and different fervor.”
The monument will join 20 other installations across the Capitol grounds, including monuments to Confederate soldiers, volunteer firefighters and veterans. The monument is the second memorial dedicated to a specific ethnic group. The Tejano Monument, erected in 2012, is dedicated to Mexican-American history in the state.
The African-American monument is decades in the making and got a final push last year when lawmakers approved $1.5 million to complete the project.
“After many years of hard work bringing the Texas African American Historical Monument to the Capitol Grounds, the stories of struggle and triumph of African-American Texans will be properly consecrated at our state’s capitol,” state Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, who is chairwoman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement. “We are thrilled that the monument which means so much to so many is one step closer to coming to fruition.”
The memorial includes numerous historical figures and events portraying the African-American experience in Texas, dating as far back as 1528. It includes depictions of slavery, emancipation and modern contributions of African-American Texans.
Dwight said he started working on the memorial in 2010 and the final product cost about $3 million to complete. A foundation for the memorial raised more than $2 million for the effort.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the monument should serve as reminder of the progress Texas has made toward achieving equality, but also the work that remains.
“As we’ve seen in recent battles over textbooks and Confederate monuments — symbols matter,” Ellis said in a statement. “History belongs to us all. And students of every color and creed should see themselves reflected in our museums and our history books. Texas is and has long been a vibrant, diverse state. We are all strengthened when we begin to understand, celebrate and honor all of our histories instead of denying or distorting those histories.”
The Legislature’s original plan for an African-American monument was a statue on the Capitol grounds commemorating Juneteenth and the end of slavery. But that 1999 plan was scrapped after the statue was completed and criticism emerged that a figure in the memorial too closely resembled then state Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, who had advocated for the monument.
The Juneteenth monument was never installed at the Capitol and a renewed push for a new monument to African-Americans in Texas surfaced.