Texas reacts to Confederate imagery statewide

A worker removes a statue of a Confederate leader at the University of Texas at Austin campus on Monday, August 21, 2017. The statues removed from the campus will be added to the collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. (Nexstar Photo/KXAN)
A worker removes a statue of a Confederate leader at the University of Texas at Austin campus on Monday, August 21, 2017. The statues removed from the campus will be added to the collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. (Nexstar Photo/KXAN)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The discussion about whether or not to remove statues that honor Confederate leaders has come to the forefront in Texas, following the attack in Charlottesville, Va.

Petitions to rename schools and remove statues of Confederate heroes are popping up across Texas.

“There are people of good faith of good morals on both sides of the issue,” United States Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in New Braunfels, before a town hall and tour at Sysco Central Texas, Inc.

“The issue is a difficult one because it goes to the troubled history of America on race relations, and in particular, our original sin: the sin of slavery, which we fought a bloody Civil War to expunge this nation of,” Cruz stated.

“On Confederate memorials, I think different communities, different institutions are going to make different decisions about how to acknowledge that history,” he added.

His colleague, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also said local entities should make the decisions about whether to keep or remove a Confederate namesake on a case by case basis. When asked about it during a press conference in Dallas, he said in part:

“We can’t ignore our history. One wise person said: those who forget history are condemned to relive it. And there’s important things that I think we can learn from our history that will make us a better country. So, I just think we need to be careful about how we proceed, but I do believe letting universities, and cities, and the counties make those decisions rather than have some national mandate is the way to go.”

The Texas Tribune reported that there are more than 170 statues, monuments, and memorials that pay tribute to leaders of the Confederacy, including schools, cities, and county names.

The University of Texas at Austin removed Confederate statues on campus Sunday night and Monday morning. The statues of Confederate Postmaster General John H. Reagan, Confederate General Albert S. Johnston, and commander of the Confederate army Robert E. Lee, will become part of the collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, but not on public display.

“I think it’s really important that we know our history, we acknowledge the past, but we don’t make heroes out of those who fought to preserve the institution of slavery in Texas and in the country,” said U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, during a visit to Waco on Monday.

“I think that the decision to remove these Confederate monuments and put them in museums is the right one,” he said, before he cited a name change of a road in his El Paso district.

“We renamed Robert E. Lee Boulevard, Buffalo Soldier Boulevard,” O’Rourke added. “We did it with a little fuss, and we did it the right way, with the commanding general… making that decision for the best interest of Fort Bliss, the service members there, the wider community, and the history of this country.”

In Amarillo, a group of residents gathered over the weekend to take care of a monument of an unnamed member of the Confederate army that was erected “in memory of our Confederate soldiers.”

“It memorializes the soldiers,” Amarillo resident Johnny Youngblood said. “There’s a lot of families in our city that have that lineage. It’s nothing we can choose. It’s just part of our history.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement last week about the removal of Confederate symbols.

“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.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also weighed in on the removal of items and the possible changes to school names, by saying it would “re-write history.”

“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.”

“I don’t think it’s beneficial to sanitize our history,” Cruz said. “I don’t think it’s beneficial to hide our history, even chapters of our history that were not pretty chapters.”

“Texas has a long history of brave men and women willing to stand up and speak the truth in difficult circumstances, and I’m confident Texas will continue to honor that history,” Cruz mentioned.

O’Rourke said while it’s a “painful, tough, conversation that we’re having right now.”

“I’m glad we’re having it, and I hope that it produces the kind of change but I think we’ve been waiting for too long for in Texas,” he explained.

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