Take Austin’s Confederate monuments down now

Just after midnight on Aug. 21, the University of Texas at Austin removed its remaining Confederate statues. Photo by Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

Recently our nation watched, transfixed in horror, as neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other modern-day white supremacists marched on Charlottesville, Virginia.

They carried torches and waved flags that advertised their sympathies. Flags that once hung behind Adolf Hitler as he gave speeches about his hopes and dreams for the Third Reich, which included the annihilation of the Jewish people — all of them, every last one. Flags that Confederate soldiers carried into battle as they fought, desperate to preserve a way of life predicated on the enslavement of human beings that mandated poverty, hunger, supplication, assault, rape, torture and murder, and denied these same human beings family, education, dignity, justice and freedom.

Their message, and the legacies they revere, were clear.

Our response must be even clearer. We must reject the values that white supremacists hold dear, and we must do so immediately and publicly. It is time — well past time, in fact — to eradicate any and all monuments that glorify the dark and shameful values of the Confederacy.

Within days following the protests in Charlottesville, several cities took action. Citizens in Durham, toppled a Confederate statue, and the city of Baltimore worked through the night to remove four monuments.

In Austin, change has also come quickly. Last week, with the support of tens of thousands of Austinites, Mayor Steve Adler and multiple city council members including Greg Casar and Anne Kitchen called for the swift name change of Robert E. Lee Road. Early Monday, under cover of darkness, the University of Texas pulled down three of four remaining Confederate monuments. Statues of Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and John Reagan will be relocated to the Briscoe Center for American History, while a fourth statue (of former Texas Governor James Stephen Hogg, not associated with the Confederacy) will find a new home elsewhere on campus.

Not surprisingly, the grounds of the state Capitol tell a different story. Roughly a dozen memorials remain, despite repeated and renewed calls by some legislators for their removal. These include statues of Robert E. Lee and other, less famous generals; a monument to Terry’s Texas Rangers, who never officially surrendered at the end of the war; a portrait of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America; and a plaque inside the rotunda dedicated to the Children of the Confederacy that memorializes the lie that the Confederacy fought for states’ rights and not for slavery.

Some argue that Confederate monuments are symbols of Southern pride. Whose pride? Certainly not the millions of African-Americans who suffered under slavery. Certainly not their descendants, who still face indignity, injustice, terror and violence because of our country’s thriving racist attitudes, systems and institutions. Let us not worship symbols that exclude and hurt so many.

Others argue that these monuments should stand because they tell our state’s history. They have a point; we cannot undo the past, nor should we run from it. We must acknowledge it and take responsibility for it. But Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and the others belong in our history books and museums, where we can also devote words and images to their misdeeds and document the lives of the black men, women and children they fought to keep in chains. Germany does not allow statues of their despicable and disgraced former Nazi leaders in city parks or squares. Neither should we.

Instead, let us erect monuments to the true heroes of that era. Harriet Tubman, for her work rescuing slaves through the Underground Railroad. Frederick Douglass, who challenged the system of slavery with his words and inspired others to do the same. Fanny McFarland, a black freewoman whose children remained slaves and who petitioned the U.S. Congress to remain in the Republic of Texas so she could be near them. Let us raise up the black men and women who worked to topple the system, free others, or live with dignity — not their jailers and oppressors.

We must take down all of Austin’s Confederate monuments now. It is time. This discussion is not new, but the outcome must be.

Catherine Shattuck

Former resident of Charlottesville, VA