Hey Texplainer: Will any of the Confederate markers at the Texas Capitol be removed?
There are more than 180 public symbols of the Confederacy around Texas, including several just on the Capitol grounds. After a rally by white nationalists turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past August, Confederate monuments and markers across the country have drawn increased scrutiny.
While the Texas Capitol includes monuments, cannons and portraits honoring the Confederacy, a small plaque appears the most likely to be removed, after both a Democrat in the Texas House and the Republican speaker of the House recently expressed concern about it.
However, the process of changing the landscape of the Capitol grounds isn’t an easy one. While the Preservation Board is in charge of the Capitol grounds, it often takes new state laws – along with years of waiting – to spur them into action.
Most recently, a Texas African American History Memorial became the newest monument on the Capitol grounds, but getting it built took more than 20 years. In 1997, then-Gov. George W. Bush signed legislation directing the preservation board to plan it. In 2015, then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner managed to help steer state funding to build the monument, which was unveiled last year.
Similarly, supporters of a Tejano monument had to wait more than a decade and lobby for the passage of multiple state laws before that was installed on the Capitol in 2012, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
According to a spokesperson for the Preservation Board, there may be several reasons for a delay in the building of a monument — including fundraising. And the time it takes for any changes to be made to a statue or monument at the Capitol varies widely.
The board currently has no instructions or processes in its administrative code that address the removal of any items from Capitol grounds. That’s prompted some to push for state lawmakers to push forward on the issue, just as they did in the past to add monuments to the grounds.
In August, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, asked the State Preservation Board to remove a “Children of the Confederacy Creed" plaque located outside of his office. The plaque, which was erected in 1959, asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery."
“The aforementioned plaque has no rightful place in the Texas Capitol,” Johnson wrote in a letter dated Aug. 16. “The plaque is not historically accurate in the slightest, to which any legitimate, peer-reviewed Civil War historian will attest.”
In a separate letter, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said that while Confederate monuments and plaques are understandably important to many Texans, it’s important such landmarks be "accurate and appropriate."
"This is not accurate, and Texans are not well-served by incorrect information about our history," Straus said.
Even if the plaque were to get moved, however, Johnson later told The Texas Tribune he didn’t have a specific location in mind for where to move it to.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Johnson said.
The state representative requested a meeting with Gov. Greg Abbott to discuss altering or removing Confederate statues and monuments. Abbott agreed in September to meet with Johnson to discuss the issue, and the two are now slated to have a meeting later this month. However, the governor has previously said removing the monuments "won't erase our nation's past, and it doesn't advance our nation's future."
A spokesperson for Abbott didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they think the plaque should be removed, but Johnson previously told The Dallas Morning News he is "confident" that Abbott and the State Preservation Board "will do the right thing and decide to remove this particular piece of offensive propaganda from our state Capitol."
“I’m looking forward to my meeting with Gov. Abbott about the ‘Children of the Confederacy’ plaque, and I applaud him for being willing to engage in an intellectually honest discussion about this particularly problematic piece of Confederate iconography,” Johnson told the Tribune.
Even if the governor agrees that the statues should be removed, however, there’s no set timeline for when it would happen.
“The agency is aware of discussions between lawmakers concerning confederacy-related commemorations,” Chris Currens of the State Preservation Board said. “The removal of any artifact is a policy matter requiring guidance from the agency's board. The agency cannot comment on policy matters pending before them.”
The recent move by lawmakers is part of a larger conversation — both statewide and nationally — surrounding Confederate monuments. Following the deadly racial conflict in Charlottesville that began as a defense of a Robert E. Lee monument, some confederate statues in Texas have quickly come down after years of debate, including three at the University of Texas at Austin and one last month in a public park in Dallas.
The bottom line: Right now, all of the Confederate markers at the Capitol are staying put, but some lawmakers are urging Gov. Greg Abbott and the State Preservation Board to remove at least a single plaque that has drawn bipartisan criticism. Recent successful efforts to add new monuments on the grounds suggests lawmakers may have to pass legislation to see the Preservation Board make any changes to the Capitol landscape.
Correction: A previous version of this story included an incorrect year for when Gov. George W. Bush signed legislation directing the State Preservation Board to plan an African American monument. He signed it in 1997.