Ugly history

Mayor Turner Announces Plan to Review Houston's Confederate Monuments

After a violent weekend in Charlottesville, Va., Houston reckons with its own history.

By Morgan Kinney August 16, 2017

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Spirit of the Confederacy statue located in Sam Houston Park.

Following the violent protests of racist, neo-Nazi, and other white supremacist groups that left at least one dead in Charlottesville, Virginia, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Tuesday a review of the city’s Confederate monuments for possible removal.

"It is my hope that we can, in a very positive and constructive way, move forward," Turner said in a statement.

Cities across the nation have reacted quickly to events in Charlottesville, where the white nationalists protested the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee. One of the first to respond was Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray, who immediately announced via Twitter that he would begin the process of removing the city’s Confederate statues. The city of Baltimore moved swiftly to remove all four of its Confederate monuments in the middle of night Tuesday.

In Houston, a petition started in response to Charlottesville asks the city to remove the 1908 Spirit of the Confederacy statue located in Sam Houston Park. The statue, by Italian sculptor Louis Amateis, is a winged, bronzed angel wielding a sword. The dedication reads: "To all heroes of the South who fought for the Principles of States Right." To date, 1,491 supporters have signed the petition. "We do not seek to erase this past from our history," the petition says. "What we seek is to erase attempts to romanticize, praise, and glorify this past."

Turner, without committing to a plan, echoed the petition's language in Tuesday’s council meeting. "No one wants to erase history, just try to provide the proper context for the things that we do have," he said.

A 2016 study from the Southern Poverty Law Center found 1,503 “symbols of the Confederacy” exist across the nation, a category that includes monuments, statues, school names and state holidays; Texas is one of a handful of states to celebrate Confederate Heroes Day, January 19.

Turner has taken a strong stance on removing Confederate namesakes. City Council unanimously approved the renaming of Dowling Street, named after Confederate hero Richard Dowling, to Emancipation Avenue in January. The day of the vote, At Large Councilman Mike Knox began to enumerate Dowling’s accomplishments, which, aside from fighting to preserve the enslavement of millions of black Americans, included a career as a saloonkeeper and an early figure in the Houston Fire Department.

"I'm not going to sit here and allow you to glorify him," Turner said in response to Knox at the meeting. "The reason we're changing the street is because Emancipation Park is on that street and it's consistent with what we've done with Memorial and Hermann."

The city erected a statue to Dowling in Hermann Park in 1905, three years before the Spirit of the Confederacy statue. Turner has requested his staff compile an inventory of Confederate monuments throughout the city. No timeline was made public for these changes.

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