Dal­las, me­mo­rial needs to go away

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & state - Peo­ple’s

Dal­las City Hall livestreams and records and posts to its web­site ev­ery meet­ing of the City Coun­cil. But the video shot dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing is in­com­plete: Ap­prox­i­mately 34 restive min­utes are miss­ing from The Of­fi­cial Record.

At 1:18 p.m., Mayor Mike Rawl­ings called a sud­den re­cess. Men and women de­mand­ing jus­tice for a black man slain in his own apart­ment by a white Dal­las po­lice of­fi­cer had streamed into the coun­cil cham­bers — the

cham­bers — de­mand­ing to be heard. There was, for a time, a right­eous and wel­come noise. The chants be­gan: “No jus­tice, no peace!” Abruptly the mayor called a time-out, then the of­fi­cial cam­eras were snapped off; the mics, too, un­til 1:52 p.m., when Rawl­ings re­turned.

Into those 34 min­utes of tur­bu­lence stepped the Rev. Michael Wa­ters, founder of Joy Taber­na­cle A.M.E.

Church on Holmes Street in South Dal­las. Dressed head to toe in dark blue, his top adorned with a but­ton fea­tur­ing the smil­ing vis­age of Botham Jean, Wa­ters — the ac­tivist, author and pro­fes­sor — strode to the lectern re­served for peo­ple ad­dress­ing the coun­cil. The mic was muted, but it didn’t mat­ter. The room qui­eted as he ap­proached the podium; we could hear Wa­ters’ roar even in the back rows.

Wa­ters be­gan by ad­dress­ing not the fresh wound, but an an­cient one still raw: the Con­fed­er­ate War Me­mo­rial in the founders’ ceme­tery just out­side City Hall, which a ma­jor­ity of the coun­cil has re­peat­edly put off re­mov­ing, most re­cently this spring.

On April 25, Wa­ters be­gan: “this city coun­cil had the op­por­tu­nity to make a state­ment to the world. That state­ment was that black lives mat­ter to the city of Dal­las. In­stead, this coun­cil de­cided to up­hold the le­gacy of white supremacy in the city of Dal­las into the 21st cen­tury by not bring­ing down im­me­di­ately a mon­u­ment to white supremacy.”

He pointed out that that less than a mile from where that mon­u­ment sits, Jean was gunned down in his own home by a woman wear­ing the uni­form of those meant to pro­tect and serve. Wa­ters linked hor­rors past and present: the city’s deep ties to the Klan a cen­tury ago, the slay­ing of 12-yearold San­tos Ro­driguez at the hands of a Dal­las cop in 1973, the se­vere poverty spread through­out this city, the re­cent re­port from the Ur­ban In­sti­tute that says of 274 big cities in this coun­try Dal­las is dead last in “over­all in­clu­sion,” and, of course, the death of Jean.

Wa­ters, hon­ored by SMU as one of its dis­tin­guished alumni in 2015, told the coun­cil to stop telling us “this is a di­verse, vi­brant and pro­gres­sive city.” Be­cause there is plenty of proof it is not.

Al­ways, he re­turned to the Con­fed­er­ate War Me­mo­rial, the vul­gar mon­u­ment a stone’s throw from City Hall. The coun­cil will be­gin dis­cussing again, perhaps as soon as next month, whether to re­move the mon­u­ment hon­or­ing the men who fought to pre­serve slav­ery or “con­tex­tu­al­ize” — that is, ra­tio­nal­ize — its con­tin­ued ex­is­tence.

Jen­nifer Scripps, who runs the Of­fice of Cul­tural Af­fairs and is tasked with over­see­ing the process, said Thurs­day she will not share her opin­ion lest the coun­cil con­sider it ad­vice. She did say that at this mo­ment there is “a re­ally thought­ful artist” — whom she is not yet nam­ing — try­ing “to put the atroc­i­ties into per­spec­tive.”

For proof that some­thing so un­think­able is perhaps pos­si­ble, Scripps said, look no fur­ther than the Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive’s stark, stag­ger­ing me­mo­rial to the vic­tims of lynch­ing in Mont­gomery, Ala. — what our Mark Lam­ster called “the sin­gle great­est work of Amer­i­can architecture of the 21st cen­tury.” Rawl­ings said he re­cently vis­ited the me­mo­rial, too, be­cause “if we could tell the story of Dal­las in the right way, it could be a very healing thing.”

It could be. Or it could be an­other ex­cuse to de­lay some­thing other cities have done more swiftly, more coura­geously.

The tow­er­ing Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ment was planted in Dal­las in April 1897, and among its adorn­ments and epi­grams, it bears a gi­ant “C.S.A” mono­gram, and is guarded by life-sized stat­ues of the Pres­i­dent of the Con­fed­er­ate States Jef­fer­son Davis and his gen­er­als Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Al­bert Sid­ney John­ston. When the mon­u­ment was un­veiled, this news­pa­per re­ported on April 30, 1897, “thou­sands of gray-haired and scarred vet­er­ans of the Lost Cause” came to Dal­las to “pay homage of the glo­ries of the past.”

The South­ern­ers’ myth that the Civil War was about states’ rights, not slav­ery. The use of these mon­u­ments “to re­write his­tory to hide the truth, which is that the Con­fed­er­acy was on the wrong side of hu­man­ity,” then-New Or­leans Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu fa­mously said last year af­ter he did what Dal­las won’t. It was right there, in this very news­pa­per, 121 years ago, in black and white — white, mostly.

Later Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, dur­ing a mo­ment of quiet in a room away from coun­cil cham­bers, Wa­ters said that the mon­u­ment — “meant to for­ever keep green the mem­ory of the he­roes of the south,” ac­cord­ing to this news­pa­per more than a cen­tury ago — is the stain this city must re­move.

“Un­til we get that right and un­der­stand that in the 21st cen­tury we should not be li­on­iz­ing traitors from the 19th cen­tury, we can­not move for­ward,” Wa­ters said, his voice al­most a whis­per. “It is ground zero. Since 1896 it has presided over ev­ery lynch­ing, ev­ery in­jus­tice, ev­ery red-lined com­mu­nity. If we want a new Dal­las for a new day, it’s time for that mon­u­ment to come down.”

Rwilon­sky@dal­las­news.com

ROBERT WILONSKY

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