Capi­tol’s Rebel plaque soon to be his­tory

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Cobler

A plaque glo­ri­fy­ing the Con­fed­er­acy that has been hang­ing in the Texas Capi­tol since 1959 is fi­nally com­ing down — two years af­ter Demo­cratic law­mak­ers first made an is­sue of it.

The State Preser­va­tion Board, made up of five Repub­li­can of­fi­cials and one cit­i­zen, voted unan­i­mously in a three-minute meet­ing Fri­day to re­move the “Chil­dren of the Con­fed­er­acy Creed” plaque. The marker has long drawn crit­i­cism and out­rage be­cause of its his­tor­i­cally in­ac­cu­rate claim that the Civil War was “not a re­bel­lion, nor was its un­der­ly­ing cause to sus­tain slav­ery.”

Gov. Greg Ab­bott, Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, House Speaker Den­nis Bon­nen, Rep. Jeff Leach and cit­i­zen rep­re­sen­ta­tive Alethea Swann Bugg cast their votes Fri­day and quickly left the room with­out com­ment.

Rep. Eric John­son, D-Dal­las, who is black, has been push­ing for the plaque’s re­moval since 2017, and he said he was pleased with the board’s de­ci­sion but frus­trated that it took two years of com­plaints and a rul­ing from the Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice.

“I can’t es­cape the feel­ing that this isn’t a time for back­slap­ping or high-fiv­ing,” John­son said fol­low­ing the vote. “The re­al­ity is the plaque should have never gone up in the first place.”

John­son said he was struck by how emo­tion­less the board mem­bers seemed through­out the brief pro­ceed­ing.

The de­ci­sion comes two months af­ter Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton set­tled, in a way, ques­tions

over who had the power to take it down. Pax­ton is­sued an opin­ion that the plaque could be re­moved by the Leg­is­la­ture, the State Preser­va­tion Board or the Texas His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion. The opin­ion had been re­quested by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who was work­ing with John­son on the mat­ter.

Dur­ing a de­bate in the sum­mer, Ab­bott, who is chair­man of the his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion board, said he thought it was up to the Leg­is­la­ture to do it.

“It was the way for us to get a con­crete an­swer of how we can fi­nally get rid of this thing once and for all,” Moody said.

Moody also didn’t mince words on why there was such a long de­lay, de­spite agree­ment from leg­is­la­tors that it should be re­moved. “I do re­ally think that there is fear within con­ser­va­tive cir­cles that you can’t take a vote to take this thing down be­cause there are peo­ple whose sup­port you will lose,” Moody said. “It’s just be­yond me why you would want that sup­port.”

Ab­bott has pre­vi­ously ad­vo­cated against the re­moval of con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments, say­ing in 2017 that “re­mov­ing them won’t erase our na­tion’s past and doesn’t ad­vance our na­tion’s fu­ture.” Pa­trick said in 2017 that law­mak­ers shouldn’t “re­write his­tory by re­mov­ing ev­i­dence of peo­ple or events that we can learn from.”

The re­ver­sal of opin­ions from Ab­bott and Pa­trick comes down to a change in the way the con­ver­sa­tion around the plaque was han­dled, John­son said.

“I re­al­ized a while back that emo­tional ar­gu­ments weren’t the way to go about this, and I started to ap­peal it in a more le­gal­is­tic way,” he said. “It’s not ac­cu­rate. … And at some point it just be­came dif­fi­cult to de­fend its con­tin­ued ex­is­tence.”

Now that its re­moval has been ap­proved, it’s un­clear when the plaque will be taken down and where it will go fol­low­ing its re­moval.

Christo­pher Cur­rens, di­rec­tor of spe­cial projects for the State Preser­va­tion Board, said the plaque was “deeply an­chored” in the wall, but Capi­tol work­ers were al­ready weigh­ing op­tions on how to take it down. He also said no de­ci­sion had been made on where the plaque should go.

With the plaque’s fate de­ter­mined, John­son said the vote should be taken as an op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss the value of the roughly one dozen Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments that re­main on the Capi­tol grounds.

“I don’t think it’s a con­ver­sa­tion we should be afraid to have, not in 2019, in Amer­ica, in Texas,” John­son said.

“It’s not ac­cu­rate. … And at some point it just be­came dif­fi­cult to de­fend its con­tin­ued ex­is­tence.”

Rep. Eric John­son of Dal­las

Tom Reel / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

A plaque stat­ing the Chil­dren of the Con­fed­er­acy Creed is po­si­tioned in a nar­row hall­way just out­side the main con­course of the Capi­tol’s ro­tunda.

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