Top 3 state officials hold keys to removing Confederate statues

Confederate monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Confederate monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Staff for the state agency that controls monuments and plaques on the Texas State Capitol grounds are reviewing Confederate iconography after a state representative made a request.

The people who decide what will happen next are Chair of the State Preservation Board Gov. Greg Abbott, and the two co-vice chairs, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, asked the chair to take down the 1959 plaque from the Children of the Confederacy. It holds two controversial statements: the Civil War was not a rebellion and its underlying cause was not slavery.

Johnson asked the state to take the plaque down and begin a discussion of removing all Confederate monuments on the State Capitol grounds after the attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Confederate plaque in the Texas State Capitol building (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Confederate plaque in the Texas State Capitol building (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

“I cannot think of a better time than the present to discuss the removal of all Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol Complex,” Rep. Johnson wrote a letter to the Preservation Board.

State law lays out who governs the state preservation board. Each of the top three officials in Texas can appoint a member. That makeup can decide to change, alter or remove a monument or commemorative plaque. After 2009, it takes a law passed by the entire legislature to approve the construction of a new monument. This happened for the Tejano and African-American monuments on the Capitol grounds.

Speaker Straus recommended the review. A spokesperson for Straus, Jason Embry, told the Dallas Morning News, “Speaker Straus would like to see a State Preservation Board review of the accuracy of signs and monuments around the Capitol, and the Speaker will work with Representative Johnson and others on this issue.”

When asked, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick responded,

I have stated unequivocally that we will not tolerate racism, bigotry, hate or violence in Texas — not here, not now, not ever. That’s one reason I believe that we should not attempt to re-write history by removing evidence of people or events that we can learn from. In recent years we have expanded monuments and historical plaques to include people that were ignored, disparaged or forgotten in the past. The goal is to learn from history, all of our history, including events and times that many would like to forget. Our goal should be to have a meaningful dialogue for future generations so those moments in our history are not repeated.”

Gov. Abbott released a statement earlier in the week:

Racist and hate-filled violence – in any form — is never acceptable, and as Governor I have acted to quell it. My goal as governor is to eliminate the racist and hate-filled environment we are seeing in our country today. But we must remember that our history isn’t perfect. If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. 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. As Governor, I will advance that future through peace, not violence, and I will do all I can to keep our citizens safe,” wrote Abbott.”

We checked with Austin’s mayor to see if he is pushing for any confederate markers on city property to be taken down.

His office told us that beyond street names, they aren’t aware of any symbols or statues tied to the Confederacy, but he does support council members efforts to change the name of Robert E. Lee Road in south Austin and Jeff Davis Street in central Austin.

Still, that will take time as emergency departments, the postal service and local utilities must give approval. A public hearing would also likely be needed before the council can vote on the changes.

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