The Latest on the Confederate Monument Front

The University of Texas removed its confederate statues overnight. In this story we learn four statues were removed, three of them being confederates and one being the son of a confederate. “The president of the University of Texas at Austin has ordered the immediate removal of statues of Robert E. Lee and three other Confederate-era figures — Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg — from a main area of campus.” Lee, of course, was the most prominent confederate general. Albert Sidney Johnston was a confederate general killed at the Battle of Shiloh. Reagan was the confederate postmaster. “Hogg was the first native-born governor of Texas and the son of a Confederate general.” The story tells us, “Hogg was alive during the Civil War, but was too young to serve. UT-Austin spokesman J.B. Bird said the university had no objection to Hogg’s statue on campus, but ‘the entire statuary is one exhibit, so it all goes together.’ ” In a letter, UT President Greg Fenves said, “The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history. But our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university’s core values, the values of our state and the enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres. We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus.” This comes on the heels of Duke University’s removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from the entrance to its chapel. In this story, we find President Fenves also said, “These events make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The historical and cultural significance of the Confederate statues on our campus — and the connections that individuals have with them — are severely compromised by what they symbolize.” The confederate statues will become part of the Briscoe Center for American History’s museum, joining Jefferson Davis’ statue and Woodrow Wilson’s statue, both of which were removed in 2015. Hogg’s statue will probably find a home at another location on campus.

J. Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote this opinion piece urging repeal of laws that prevent local governments from determining who their community considers worthy or unworthy of honor. He wrote, “Today, communities across the country are re-evaluating the ‘heroes’ they’ve recognized. In cities stretching from Charlottesville, Virginia, to New Orleans, to Baltimore and Lexington, Kentucky, officials have legally removed or have considered removing Confederate monuments from public places. People are recognizing what the Confederacy truly represented – white supremacy. So far, Gov. Kay Ivey hasn’t been willing to let Alabama communities take similar action. In fact, she has silenced the voices of Alabamians who believe their community’s public spaces should no longer pay tribute to the Confederacy. Among Ivey’s first acts as governor was signing into law the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which prohibits the removal of monuments that are 40 or more years old. Its goal is clear: preserving Confederate monuments in public spaces – even if the community objects.” The law is now forcing local communities to honor someone or something they don’t wish to honor. He tells us, “The law’s supporters may talk about preserving history, but, of course, it isn’t about ensuring these symbols are in museums. It’s about ensuring they remain in public parks, government buildings and similar locations that suggest the local government endorses the Confederacy’s racist beliefs. If the law’s supporters are truly concerned about history, they’d be more willing to acknowledge the real history of the Confederacy. But they rarely talk about the ‘Cornerstone Speech,’ where the Confederacy’s vice president, Alexander Stephens, said the new government rested ‘upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man’ and that slavery is the ‘natural and normal condition’ of African Americans. They rarely talk about how the secession documents of Confederate states make it clear that the war was about slavery. As Mississippi noted as it seceded: ‘Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.’ ” He continues, “Confederate monuments have always represented the oppression of an entire race of people in America. Removing them is not erasing history. Rather, it is an effort to end the government’s endorsement of symbols of inequality. These symbols belong in a museum or some other educational setting where people can learn about the full history of slavery, the Confederacy, the Civil War and Jim Crow. Unfortunately, by signing the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act into law, the governor made it clear that elevating white supremacy is more important than demonstrating equality for all Alabamians.  And Attorney General Steve Marshall has proven the state is willing to use the law to ensure people of color continue to live and work in communities where symbols of a racist regime are as close as their city hall, county courthouse or local park.”

Adding an element of danger, when people are denied the right to determine who they will honor and who they won’t honor, they are tempted to take matters into their own hands. Although Texas doesn’t have such a law, someone who is not willing to wait for the state to act the way they want was arrested for trying to destroy a monument with explosives. This story tells us the 25-year-old man, Andrew Schneck, was arrested with his explosives as he was trying to destroy the statue of Lt. Dick Dowling, an Irish immigrant who fought for the confederacy. “Schneck, charged Monday with attempting to maliciously damage or destroy property, was ordered into federal custody pending a court hearing later this week. If convicted, he could face up to 40 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. It is the second time Schneck has run afoul of federal law enforcement. He was convicted in 2014 of storing explosives at another of his parents’ properties and sentenced to five years probation, but was released early last year.” As we learn from the story, “Park Ranger Tamara Curtis, who was not allowed to speak to the media Monday, found Schneck near the base of the Dowling statue with two boxes filled with a homemade detonator, a timer, wiring, a battery, a bottle of nitroglycerin and an explosive organic compound known as HMTD, hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, according to the sworn statement by Federal Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Patrick Hutchinson. After being confronted, he tried to drink some of the liquid explosives but ‘immediately spit the liquid on the ground … then proceeded to pour the contents of the bottle on the ground next to him,’ according to the statement.”

This story tells us some more about Dowling, portrayed in the statue. “The statue in Houston, located in Hermann Park, is of Richard W. ‘Dick’ Dowling, an Ireland-born Houston saloon owner. His Confederate unit defeated a Union invasion force at the Battle of Sabine Pass in 1863. Dowling was hailed as a war hero in Houston, and the end of the war saw him resume his successful business career until his death in 1867.” Let me be clear, there is nothing to agree with in Schneck’s actions. People shouldn’t take matters into their own hands to destroy monuments. It’s wrong and always will be wrong. I fear, however, some folks will let their emotions guide their actions instead of their intellects, and we may see more of this. If, however, we allow people the right to determine who and what their local communities will honor, there will be less of a temptation for people to disregard the law and do this.

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