Confederate symbols prove difficult to remove in many states

The Texas State Capitol Confederate Monument stands on the south lawn in Austin, Texas. As a racial justice reckoning continues to inform conversations across the country, lawmakers nationwide are struggling to find solutions to thousands of icons saluting controversial historical figures.

AUSTIN, Texas — Just past the gate at an entrance to the Texas Capitol, a large monument honoring the soldiers of the Confederacy looms, with towering statues and an inscription that reads, “Died for state rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”

It is one of seven Confederate memorials on the Texas Capitol grounds alone. There are over 2,000 Confederate symbols — from monuments to building names — in public spaces nationwide, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The movement to remove Confederate monuments and depictions of historical figures who mistreated Native Americans became part of the national reckoning over racial injustice following George Floyd’s death last year in Minneapolis. While many have been removed — or torn down by protesters — it’s proven difficult to remove those that remain.

At least six Southern states have policies protecting monuments, the law center said, while historical preservation boards and Republican majorities have slowed the momentum, saying it’s important to preserve America’s past.

Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have preservation laws meant to “protect primarily monuments and memorials to the Confederacy,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff of the Southern Poverty Law Center. A majority of them went up in the early Jim Crow era.

“The truth of the matter is that most of these monuments and memorials don’t offer any historical context at all,” Brooks said. “It is just a way to venerate people who fought for the continuation of slavery.”

In Alabama, a 2017 law approved as some cities began taking down Confederate statues forbids the removal or alteration of monuments more than 40 years old. Violations carry a $25,000 fine, but some cities have opted to pull them down and pay.

In March, Alabama lawmakers rejected revisions to the law that would have given cities and counties a way to take down Confederate monuments and relocate them for preservation.

In Pennsylvania, a bill would prevent removing public monuments without legislative approval, with penalties of up to a felony charge. In a statement, GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano said Pennsylvania is home to thousands of memorials and monuments “that help tell America’s story to future generations.” He said his legislation came “in response to high-profile cases in which public monuments were vandalized.”

Mastriano’s measure also would withhold state support from local governments that refuse to uphold laws protecting public monuments and “require the Pennsylvania Attorney General to prioritize the prosecution of any matters related to the vandalism of monuments within the state’s jurisdiction when a district attorney refuses to prosecute.”

At the Ohio Capitol, the removal of a 9-foot-tall copper statue of Christopher Columbus has been delayed until at least 2025. It’s stood on the Statehouse grounds in the city that bears his name since 1932. Critics say monuments to the explorer ignore the mistreatment of Indigenous people as Europeans settled in North America.

According to a rule approved in February by the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, anyone can submit a proposal to remove “commemorative works,” but final approval will take five years. That came days after Mayor Andrew Ginther removed a similar Columbus statue from City Hall.

While facing a tough fight in Texas, state Rep. Rafael Anchía still has hope for removing contentious icons at the Capitol after one of the state’s largest Confederate monuments in Dallas became one of 168 Confederate symbols removed nationwide last year.

But his legislation is up against a monument protection bill from Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton. It would create a process, with public input, for altering a state memorial to any historical figure — whether it’s a monument or a street name.

“One opinion thinks that erasing that part of our past is healthy and is the best route Texas can take,” Creighton said. “And then you have my opinion, and I believe many others here, that keeping that history in place is very important.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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