Confederate symbols are difficult to remove in many states


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Just past the front door to the Texas Capitol, looms a grand memorial honoring Confederate soldiers, with towering statues and an inscription that reads, “He died for state rights guaranteed by the Constitution”.

It is one of seven Confederate monuments on the grounds of the Texas Capitol alone. There are more than 2,000 Confederate symbols, from monuments to building names, in public spaces across the country, more than a century and a half after the Civil War ended slavery, 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 settling of accounts over racial injustice following George Floyd’s death last year in Minneapolis. While many have been eliminated – or shot down by protesters – it has proven difficult to eliminate those that remain.

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

“We are at a really important time of reckoning and racial justice,” said Texas Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat who introduced a proposal in the Republican-controlled Legislature to eliminate Confederate representations in the House of Representatives. “This fits into that process of really racial truth and reconciliation.”

But he faces Republican legislation to protect the monuments. Anchia’s measure is still awaiting a committee hearing, where attempts to remove Confederate monuments and holidays have died in previous sessions.

Texas is not the only place where the problem faces an uphill battle.

Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have preservation laws designed to “protect primarily Confederate monuments and memorials,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Most of them came up in the early Jim Crow era.

“The truth of the matter is that most of these monuments and memorials offer no historical context at all,” Brooks said. “It is just a way of worshiping the people who fought for the continuation of slavery.”

In Alabama, a 2017 law passed when some cities began tearing down Confederate statues prohibits the removal or alteration of monuments. more than 40 years. Violations carry a fine of $ 25,000, but some cities have chosen to remove them and pay.

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

In Pennsylvania, a Senate Republican bill would prevent the removal of public monuments without legislative approval, with penalties of up to one felony count.

In a statement, Republican State Senator Doug Mastriano said Pennsylvania is home to thousands of monuments and monuments “that help tell America’s story to future generations.” He said his legislation emerged “in response to high-profile cases in which public monuments were vandalized.”

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

At the Ohio Capitol, the removal of a 9-foot-tall (3-meter-high) copper statue of Christopher Columbus was delayed until at least 2025. It has been on the grounds of the Statehouse in the city that bears his name since 1932 Critics say the Explorer Monuments ignore the mistreatment of indigenous peoples when Europeans settled in North America.

The delay in removing the statue came after a board of state legislators and city leaders decided in July that the agency that manages the grounds must conduct a formal removal process.

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

Board spokesman Mike Rupert said in a statement that the rule reflects the process for erecting a “commemorative work” on the Ohio Statehouse. He said it was not pointing to any monuments.

In California, amid protests of racial injustice last summer, the icons were toppled by Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Roman Catholic priest who founded nine of the state’s 21 Spanish missions and is credited with bringing Roman Catholicism west. from the United States. Serra forced Native Americans to remain in missions after they converted or faced punishment. Its statues have been defaced for years by people who said it destroyed tribes and their culture.

California’s first Native American Assemblyman James Ramos wants to replace a Serra statue on Capitol Hill. The Democrat said he worked with the tribes on replacement options and to raise awareness of the “atrocities, genocide and forced labor” suffered by indigenous people during the Spanish missionary period.

“We are bringing that discussion and that voice that was left out of the equation when those monuments were raised so that we can have that voice now in 2021,” said Ramos.

While facing a tougher fight in Texas, Anchia still hopes to remove controversial icons from the Capitol after one of the state’s largest Confederate monuments, in Dallas, became one of 168 Confederate symbols removed throughout. the country last year.

But his legislation faces a monument protection bill from Republican state Senator Brandon Creighton. It would create a process, with public participation, to alter a state monument to any historical figure, be it a monument or the name of a street.

“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 think many others here, that keeping that story in place is very important.”

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Associated Press reporters Mark Scolforo, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Farnoush Amiri, in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report. Coronado and Amiri are on the staff of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on uncovered topics.

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