San Antonio Citizens Speak Up to Remove Confederate Statue
There's a great deal of turmoil throughout the country in regards to the removal of Confederate statues, with two very clear camps. The arguments are fairly simple. One side sees them as monuments to racism, while the other sees them as harmless relics of history. At least that's what they say. After the tragic events of Charlottesville in mid-August, the battle seems to be rapidly approaching a fever pitch nationwide.
At any rate, it seems that this debate has reached my current home city of San Antonio. There's a statue in Travis Park, located in the heart of downtown, that falls squarely into a category that makes it's continued existence arguable.
It's a 40 foot-high platform, topped with a Confederate soldier. Not a specific soldier, just a symbolic one, with the words “Lest we forget” emblazoned halfway up the obelisk that it decorates.
On Tuesday, the North East Independent School District (NEISD) trustees voted unanimously to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, further chumming the waters for both sides regarding the Travis Park Monument. The public outcry was to be heard Wednesday night at City Hall.
City Hall was packed, and it smelled like I wasn't the only person in the room who rushed down without adequate time for a shower. About 140 people signed up to get their two minutes a piece to directly address the City Council members, as well as Mayor Ron Nirenberg. There were very few 'rebel flag' phone cases and belt buckles in the room, and there was nary an assault rifle or 'Don't tread on me' banner in sight. This was no Charlottesville. On the way to my car, I even saw two cops with large dufflebags and riot shields getting onto a bus out of the area. I couldn't tell if they were relieved or disappointed about not getting to use the gear, and it didn't seem terribly wise to ask them.
Anyway, the majority of the room was in favor of taking down the monument and relegating it to a museum. One speaker even suggested moving it to the Confederate cemetery in town, which is a hard idea to argue against. Another suggested replacing it with a sculpture of blues icon Robert Johnson, who famously recorded his first album at a San Antonio hotel.
I sat through 39 individual speakers and three groups. By my count, an even 10 of the individuals supported keeping the monument, 27 supported the removal, as well as all three of the groups. Two of the people who spoke up were so insane that there's no way of deducing their position. They might as well have been screaming at a dumpster full of catfish about how it had changed after that time they won the space lottery together. It was pure, unadulterated gibberish from those two. However, a combination of veterans, cowboys, students, and activists all voiced their distress at the continued standing of the massive statue. The pulse of the room was very clear.
The modestly sized group that was interested in keeping this idol to the Confederacy lording over this quintessential park did not seem to have highly varied talking points. They were as follows:
History. We've got to remember our history.
The Civil War wasn't about slavery. It was about state's rights... To own slaves. I guess those are separate ideas somehow.
Lastly was the veterans. It would disrespect our veterans to remove a statue that represents them.
Of course, these pieces of rhetoric are incredibly weak at best. One of the pro-statue pundits actually decimated the first point during her own argument. In a nutshell, she pointed out that we teach about secession and the Confederacy in schools, so what's wrong with the statue? This argument belies the notion that the history is not in jeopardy of being forgotten. It's already being taught in schools, so there's no need to memorialize it in order to remember. She didn't seem to recognize that flawed logic, despite heavy snickering in the crowd.
I won't belabor the second point, because it's a bit self defeating and doesn't need any assistance in it's demise. Just go read the Articles of the Confederacy, and you can get a pretty clear view of the mindset of the group.
As for the veterans, the point is absurd and offensive. Confederate soldiers were fighting a war against the United States. The whole idea was to separate from the US, making them both enemies and traitors to America. So, Confederate monuments have about as much to do with US veterans as a bin Laden drinking fountain.
The most important thing to remember throughout this national fracas is just when all of these statues started popping up. The one in Travis Park was erected in 1900, just in time for the Jim Crow era. The reason for these effigies popping up all around the country in that time was to send a message. You see, slavery had ended 35 years prior, and minorities were starting to forget their place. They needed a reminder of just who was in charge. But I guess that it's just their hatred of history that makes black people uneasy around these likenesses.
In addition to all of the above listed reasons for removing Confederate monuments, the most present and topical is probably the fact that they're, once again, serving as sounding posts for white supremacists everywhere. As one dissenter at city hall put it, these statues are “rallying magnets” for hateful and dangerous ideas. They give a platform for neo-Nazis to lean on some poorly conceived notion of historic preservation in order to push their agenda. This doesn't mean that everyone who supports keeping the statue is a neo-Nazi, but it does mean that they, at best, have a precariously aligned ideology with the group. On this topic, anyway.
It should be strongly noted that the call for removal of the statue never favored it's destruction. All of the opponents to the monument standing in Travis Park seemed to understand it's historical place, but did not think that a park, passed by countless people who those soldiers would have been dispatched to slaughter, probably isn't the place for it.
The San Antonio City Council is set to vote on the fate of the statue on Thursday, but it seems pretty clear where the vote will land. If the council members took the temperature of the room at all on Wednesday night, then a removal vote is eminent. Of course, there was an outcry from the proponents of the statue that the people should vote on the issue, not the council. In either case, the clock is ticking and the result would likely be the same.