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Democrats Ask Abbott for Task Force on Confederate Monuments

Five Democratic lawmakers have asked Gov. Greg Abbott to form a task force to consider the appropriateness of Confederate monuments located on the Capitol grounds in Austin.

Confederate Soldiers Monument  at the Texas Capitol

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.

On the same day that the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds, five Democratic lawmakers asked Gov. Greg Abbott to consider the appropriateness of the Confederate monuments at their own Capitol.

In a letter sent Monday to Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, Democrats in the House and Senate asked for the creation of a task force to consider whether the numerous Confederate monuments, markers and statutes on the Capitol grounds are “historically accurate, whether they are appropriately located on the Capitol grounds, and whether any changes are needed.”

The letter was signed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sylvester Turner, all Houston Democrats; state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

“As these debates play out across our country and state, we ask you to consider the Texas Capitol itself: the building in which we have the honor of working on behalf of all Texans,” the letter reads. “The Texas Capitol grounds feature numerous monuments dedicated to the Confederacy, many of which espouse a whitewashed version of history.”

Requests for comment from Abbott and Patrick were not returned.

A spokesman for Straus said the speaker "looks forward to visiting with these legislators about their concerns and would welcome a discussion with them and others about all monuments on the grounds of the Capitol."

There are more than a dozen markers on the Capitol grounds that overtly reference the Confederacy, according to the State Preservation Board. Those include a Confederate Soldiers’ Monument on the south grounds and several portraits that hang in the Capitol chambers.

In the letter, the lawmakers cited the need to assess certain markers — including a plaque in a first-floor corridor of the Capitol honoring the “Children of the Confederacy” — that “assert the outright falsehood” that the Civil War “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery."

The lawmakers asked that the task force be made up of business, religious and education leaders to allow for a “serious conversation about how best to honor Texas' heritage and past – while at the same time ensuring historical accuracy and that we celebrate figures worthy of our praise.”

Momentum around the removal of Confederate monuments and symbols across the South has picked up since the fatal shootings last month of nine people inside a historic black church in South Carolina. The man charged in the shootings, Dylann Roof, was reportedly influenced by white supremacists and posed with the Confederate flag in photos.

"The State Capitol is the public face of Texas, and as such it should be equally welcoming to all Texans," the lawmakers wrote. "Texas should add its voice to the states across the country already thoughtfully discussing whether state governments should laud the Confederacy and the fundamental wrong of one human owning another."

The request to the governor comes two weeks after the University of Texas at Austin announced the formation of a task force to consider the future of Confederate statues on campus.

Additionally, 28 public schools in Texas are also named after Confederate leaders, which have prompted cries for change from civil rights groups, some school leaders and parents.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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