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After Charlottesville, unrest over Texas' Confederate statues is renewed

The spark that started the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday — unrest over Confederate monuments — has been reignited here in Texas. Here's a look at what cities are considering.

Most signs on Robert E. Lee Road in South Austin were spray painted over Monday morning following the deadly gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The spark that started the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday — unrest over Confederate monuments — has been reignited here in Texas.

At a news conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday, President Donald Trump defended keeping Confederate statues intact. “This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down," Trump said. "I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

But in urban centers across Texas, the debate is just getting started. 

The Austin City Council on Tuesday green-lighted the potentially lengthy process of changing the name of its Robert E. Lee Road after more than 12,000 people signed a petition asking for it.

“Seeing the hatred and the violence [in Charlottesville], it should shake us all to our core,” Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen told the Austin-American Statesman. “It is incumbent on all of us in the country to stand up and say: This is not who we are.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who represents the largest city in the state, announced Tuesday that he had requested city officials to look into whether Confederate statues should be removed from city property. More than 400 people have already signed a petition to remove a "Spirit of Confederacy" statue from a public park. 

"It is my hope that we can, in a very positive and constructive way, move forward," Turner said in a statement. 

In Dallas, Mayor Mike Rawlings wants a task force to evaluate removing Confederate statues around the city — even though a predominantly black group has requested the monuments remain standing

“It's easy to jump on the bandwagon and say 'tear them down' because it is frankly politically correct and makes us all feel good. I feel that way,” Rawlings said. “But I hesitate. And the reason is I realize the city of Dallas is better, stronger when we are united and not divided."

A San Antonio city council member, Robert Trevino, is pushing a measure to remove a Confederate statue in one of the city’s parks. “It is an unfortunate message of hate," he told the San Antonio Express-News, "and we think it’s important to relocate it."

Fiery debate over Confederate monuments isn't new to Texas. In 2015, the University of Texas at Austin relocated a statue of Jefferson Davis from the campus’ main plaza to a nearby museum a few months after the fatal shooting of black parishioners at a South Carolina church.

Also in 2015, a group with Confederate ties began construction on a monument — on Martin Luther King Drive — in the East Texas town of Orange to honor those who fought for the south in the Civil War. 

A push to remove statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Albert Sidney Johnston in Lamar County failed in June, and most recently, a “White Lives Matter” rally was announced in College Station and canceled within 72 hours after state lawmakers and leaders denounced it. The event's organizer — white nationalist Preston Wiginton — told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday he still planned to march through campus at some point, and added he was pursuing a legal challenge against the university.  

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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