Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Confederacy

Bonnen supports removing Confederate plaque

Good.

Rep. Eric Johnson

After a yearlong push to remove a controversial “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque from inside the Texas Capitol, momentum appears to be picking up steam.

On Monday Gov. Greg Abbott announced a Jan. 11 meeting of the State Preservation Board that oversees the Capitol grounds and the likely next Texas House Speaker said he supports removing the plaque, The Dallas Morning News first reported. The plaque, which was erected in 1959, asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, who is expected to lead the lower chamber next year, applauded Abbott’s efforts and voiced his support for removing the plaque.

“I commend the Governor for calling this meeting to begin the process of removing the confederate plaque from the halls of the State Capitol,” the Angleton lawmaker said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “It is historically inaccurate, and I stand by those who have called for its removal.”

Abbott called the meeting in a letter, which did not specify an agenda, to preservation board executive director Rod Welsh. But a spokesperson for the board told the Tribune this afternoon that this will be the Abbott-led board’s first meeting since March 2017, and word of it comes nearly two weeks after Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion saying the Legislature or the panel is among those who have the power to unilaterally remove the plaque.

Additionally, the meeting will fall three days after the start of next year’s legislative session, when Bonnen is expected to take over the speakership. Both the Texas House speaker and the lieutenant governor serve as co-vice chairs on the preservation board under Abbott.

See here, here, and here for the background. It should be noted that outgoing Speaker Joe Straus also supported the removal of this mendacious plaque, so Bonnen’s support is maintenance of the status quo and not a shift in the politics. It’s still the right thing to do and he deserves credit for it. The key is whether Greg Abbott will join in and do what needs to be done to finish the job. We’ll find out on January 11.

AG rules Confederate plaque can be removed

Let’s get a move on then.

Rep. Eric Johnson

The Texas Legislature or a state board chaired by Gov. Greg Abbott can remove a plaque in the Capitol honoring Confederates, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a published opinion Wednesday, providing clarity to a longstanding question over who has the power to do so — and how it can be done.

The “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque, which asserts that that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery,” had been the cause of controversy for lawmakers for months. Several have called it offensive and historically inaccurate.

Last October, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, called for the plaque’s removal and submitted a formal request to do so to the Texas State Preservation Board, which is chaired by Abbott and includes four other Republican elected officials and one citizen representative. Johnson, whose office is near the plaque, renewed those calls on Wednesday, noting that his request was never approved.

“They could take it down before the end of business today,” he said in an interview. “There shouldn’t be any confusion that the method I’ve chosen to go about this is the right one.”

Abbott said following a meeting with Johnson last year that he would have the preservation board “look into” how to remove the plaque. Paxton’s opinion made clear that three groups could make that decision: the Legislature, the Texas Historical Commission or the preservation board.

And any legislator can submit a form to request the removal of a “monument or memorial” — as Johnson did — and submit it to the preservation board, Paxton said. The curator of the Capitol, who works for the board, can approve the change — or the board has the discretion to do it itself.

See here and here for the background. Rep. Johnson is correct that he has done all the right things, and he has every reason to expect that the Preservation Board, under Greg Abbott’s direction, will follow through. And when they don’t – because honestly, no one should expect Greg Abbott to show leadership or do the right thing when it doesn’t advantage him – he will surely file a lawsuit. That can all be easily avoided, if Greg Abbott does his job. We’re all waiting.

The status of Confederate monument removal

We still have a long way to go.

Texas has removed the most Confederate symbols and statues in the country since 2015, according to a new Southern Poverty Law Center study. But the trend does not extend to the state Capitol, where lawmakers have been reluctant to take down monuments and plaques.

Texas cities removed 31 symbols, which include statues and renaming of schools and streets, according to the report. Austin led the way, with the removal of 10 symbols, the majority of them on the UT campus. Houston renamed seven schools and one street.

Cities in Texas and across the country have removed hundreds of symbols following the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston in 2015, which prompted lawmakers in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse.

“As a consequence of the national reflection that began in Charleston, the myths and revisionist history surrounding the Confederacy may be losing their grip in the South,” the SPLC argues in its report. “Yet, for the most part, the symbols remain.”

Houston ISD spent $1.2 million to change the names of eight schools that once honored figures of the Confederacy. Reagan High became Heights High; Davis High was changed to Northside High; Lee High took the name of longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom; Johnston Middle was changed to Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Jackson Middle became the Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence; Dowling Middle was renamed after Audrey Lawson; and Lanier Middle changed its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Confederate poet Sidney Lanier.

Dowling Street, named after Houston businessman Dick Dowling who served as a lieutenant in the Confederacy, was renamed Emancipation Avenue by the City of Houston in January 2017.

Two controversial monuments remain in city parks.

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue has stood in Downtown’s Sam Houston Park for 110 years. A monument commemorating Dick Dowling was erected in Market Square Park in 1905 before moving to its current location in Herman Park.

You can read the SPLC report here. There’s a sidebar story in there about the history and origin of Stone Mountain in Georgia, which, yeah. Go read that if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about. I don’t know if they counted this sort of thing, but in addition to the schools that got renamed, HISD also recently got rid of a Confederate-themed school mascot. So yes, progress.

One place where a lot more progress could and should be made in short order is in the state Capitol. State Rep. Eric Johnson, who has been leading the charge to get a particular historically false plaque removed, just submitted a brief to the AG’s office regarding the authority of the State Preservation Board, which includes Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, to remove that “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque. He subsequently got support from outgoing Speaker Joe Straus.

The Republican speaker of the Texas House says a Confederate plaque hanging in the state Capitol can — and should — be removed immediately.

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton, Speaker Joe Straus called the plaque offensive and misleading. And he agreed with Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrat pushing for its removal, that the Texas Preservation Board has the power to remove the plaque immediately.

“Every year, thousands of visitors to the Capitol are exposed to this inaccurate plaque,” the San Antonio Republican’s staff wrote on the Speaker’s behalf. “Maintaining it in its present location is a disservice to them and to history. The plaque should either be removed or relocated to a place where appropriate historical context can be provided.”

[…]

Johnson said he was disappointed he hasn’t heard from Abbott in the seven months since the two men sat down to discuss the plaque. He wants the governor to call a meeting of the board and vote on his request to remove this plaque. If the agency fails to act quickly on his request, he wrote, a court of law could compel it to do so.

“The Curator similarly cannot let a request languish,” Johnson wrote. “Should the Curator fail to act on a change request within a reasonable period of time, mandamus can issue to require the Curator to act.”

One may be disappointed in Abbott, but one shouldn’t be surprised. Straus has previously backed removing the monument, so if Abbott and Patrick would get off their butts and take action, we could get this done tomorrow. What are you waiting for, guys?

Straus backs removing Capitol Confederate monument

Kudos.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus requested on Tuesday that a contentious Confederate plaque be removed from the Capitol.

The plaque, erected in 1959, asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

“This is not accurate, and Texans are not well-served by incorrect information about our history,” Straus said in a letter to the State Preservation Board, which oversees the Capitol grounds.

Straus added in his letter that “confederate monuments and plaques are understandably important to many Texans” but stressed the importance of such landmarks being “accurate and appropriate.”

“The Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque does not meet this standard,” Straus wrote.

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, who has called for the removal of the plaque, told The Texas Tribune he was “pleased” that Straus agrees it should come down.

“I am confident that it will come down soon,” Johnson said.

See here for the background. As you know, I am objectively anti-Confederate monuments in general, though I will stipulate there is room for debate. But a Confederate monument that contains a blatant and obvious lie about what the Confederacy and the Civil War were about? In the state Capitol? I’ll be glad to drive to Austin with a hammer and pry bar and do the removal myself. Good on Rep. Johnson for bringing this up, and on Rep. Straus for doing the right thing.

Confederate monuments in the Capitol

Get rid of them, too.

A state lawmaker wants all Confederate symbols removed from the Texas Capitol grounds, including a plaque that is 40 steps away from his office that rejects the idea that the South seceded from the Union over slavery.

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent a letter to the State Preservation Board Wednesday asking that it immediately remove the plaque, which was mounted in 1959. It reads, in part, “We … pledge ourselves … to study and teach the truth of history (one of the most important of which is, that the war between the state was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery).”

“The plaque is not historically accurate in the slightest,” Johnson said in his letter. He called on the board, which maintains the Capitol’s artifacts, to immediately remove the plaque and asked for meeting with House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to discuss the removal of all Confederate symbols.

“Given the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, I cannot think of a better time than the present to discuss the removal of all Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol Complex,” Johnson said.

You can see the full letter Rep. Johnson sent to the State Preservation Board here. I doubt this will go anywhere, and he certainly won’t get any support from Greg Abbott, but I stand with Rep. Johnson.

Meantime, over the weekend there was a protest at Sam Houston Park about the “spirit of the Confederacy” statue there. Mayor Turner has requested a study of artwork at city parks after people asked for that statue to be removed at last week’s Council meeting. My expectations for action are a lot higher than they are at the Capitol. It would be nice to know what the timeline on this will be.

Mayor Turner requests study of Confederate statues

From the inbox.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has asked top staff members to study whether statues related to the Confederacy should be removed from city property.

The mayor commented about the statues Tuesday at a City Council meeting after members of the public urged the city to remove the statues from its public spaces because, they said, the statues honor slavery and racism.

Staff members will compile an inventory of the statues and “provide me with recommendations about what steps we need to take,” the mayor said.

“It is my hope that we can, in a very positive and constructive way, move forward,” Mayor Turner added.

No date has been set for action on the issue.

Public comments may be sent by e-mail to cultural.affairs@houstontx.gov

Here’s the Chron story related to this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston residents stirred by racial clashes in Virginia are demanding removal of a Confederate monument that has sat largely unnoticed more than 100 years in a quiet corner of Sam Houston Park.

The downtown monument – titled Spirit of the Confederacy – features a bronze statue of a defiant, winged angel holding a sword and palm leaf.

“To all the heroes of the South who fought for the Principles of States Rights,” reads the inscription.

For Timbergrove resident Christina Gorczynski, it’s time for the monument to go.

Gorczynski joined about a dozen residents at City Hall Tuesday in urging city leaders to take down a symbol they say celebrates slavery and racism.

“As a city, we must demonstrate our commitment to fulfilling the unfulfilled promise of equity for all,” Gorczynski said. “We must demolish the symbols that celebrate an evil institution of slavery – those that through their mere existence reinforce and maintain a culture of white supremacy.”

In response, Mayor Sylvester Turner ordered city staff to assess Houston’s public art collection and recommend future steps in light of the requests for the city to remove Confederate monuments.

“The important thing is that as we move forward, that we recognize history is also what it is,” he said during the City Council’s public session Tuesday. “History has its good. History has its bad. But I do think it’s important for us to review our inventory and then to make the most appropriate decision that’s in the best interest of our city and that does not glorify those things that we shouldn’t be glorifying.”

This is the statue in question. Which, like nearly all statues of its kind, was built decades after the end of the Civil War as a way of demonstrating the restoration of white dominance of political power. It’s the very history of these statues that tells us what they’re about. As a Yankee who has always understood the Confederacy to be a treasonous violent rebellion for the purposes of preserving slavery, I have no problem at all with ashcanning these anachronisms. Put them in a museum where their historic context can be properly documented, or put them in a basement somewhere, I don’t care. If Baltimore can do it, so can Houston. Gray Matters and the Press have more.

Renaming Dowling Street

The process has to change before the name can be changed.

For years, Third Ward residents have had to roll with the changes in their community, often having to live with decisions made in the corridors of power at City Hall.

That’s how East Broadway, the main road running through one of Houston’s historical African-American neighborhoods, became Dowling Street, named in honor of a Confederate war hero. That’s how Dowling’s name ended up on street signs along the east side of Emancipation Park, so named because it was the place recently-freed blacks celebrated the end of slavery.

Times have changed, however, and now community leaders and local officials are poised to change Dowling Street into Emancipation Avenue – even though doing so will require changing the rules at City Hall.

Community efforts to gather enough support from property owners on Dowling have come up short of meeting the city’s requirements for a resident-initiated name-change. That has caused State Rep. Garnet Coleman, who represents the area, to urge the city to revise its standards for how to change street names.

“Rightly so, because the process is impossible,” Coleman said, defending the decision to revise the rules during the process.

Houston planning officials, at the direction of Mayor Sylvester Turner, are proposing amendments to the rules to allow for city-initiated street name changes, starting with Dowling. That would mean that rather than requiring 75 percent of landowners along the street to support the renaming, the city can consider a name change if “sufficient” evidence of community support exists, after extensive public outreach.

City planning officials agree current standards lack the latitude to allow communities to sponsor name changes, especially along thoroughfares like Dowling that are a blend of residential, business and nonprofit property owners.

The mixed uses, absentee landlords and inaccurate property records in some cases made gathering signatures from three-fourths of property owners challenging, Coleman said.

“We sent out petitions to all of the property owners,” Coleman said, “We weren’t able to get to 50 percent back. The hurdle is too high.”

My position here is the same as it was for the school renaming issue, and that is that having something named after you is a privilege and not a right. There should be a process to allow residents to get a street name changed, one that is achievable but also ensures that everyone gets a chance to weigh in. The current process is too cumbersome, so changing it to be more achievable is fine by me. There doesn’t seem to be any real opposition to changing the process, or to the specific effort to rename Dowling Street, at least as far as this story goes. I suspect the renaming effort will be much less controversial, as people don’t have their identities tied to street names like they do to school names. I may revise this opinion once Council takes up the matter.

No injunction against HISD school name changes

The changes can remain, at least for now.

A civil court judge has declined to stop the Houston school district from changing the names of eight campuses that were named after Confederate loyalists.

Judge John Wooldridge this week denied a request by several taxpayers suing the district to temporarily halt the renaming of the schools with a temporary injunction.

The ruling does not end the lawsuit, filed in June, but represents a significant incremental victory for the Houston Independent School District.

See here for the background. The board of trustees had recently approved a $1.2 million expenditure to pay for the name changes, which depending on your opinion of the name changes themselves is either a necessary expense or a waste of money. The lawsuit will go forward, though I couldn’t find any other reporting to indicate if any kind of schedule were set or anticipated, with the new names remaining in place.

HISD sued over school name changes

Not a surprise.

Nine members of the local community on Thursday sued Houston’s public school district, alleging the district violated numerous laws and their own regulations when recently changing the names of eight schools.

“We’ve been arguing as parents and taxpayers for months that the vote was illegal, politically driven, and taking these historic buildings was against the law,” said public relations consultant Wayne Dolcefino, who is a spokesman for the plaintiffs in the case.

The lawsuit asks the Harris County District Court to prohibit HISD’s board from spending millions of taxpayer dollars on renaming the eight schools. HISD voted to change the names of these schools in May because each school was named for a Confederate leader.

[…]

Dolcefino said the school board violated the Texas Open Meetings act and the Monument act, among other regulations. The plaintiffs on Tuesday issued a 24-hour demand to HISD, asking the board to rescind its vote to rename the schools. HISD didn’t respond, he said.

See here for the background. The Press fills in some details.

Their suit, filed in Harris County, seeks an injunction to block HISD from using public funds to rename the schools and also seeks to protect the schools as monuments, Wayne Dolcefino, the plaintiffs’ spokesman, said. The suit claims HISD violated open meetings laws when deliberating and voting on the changes. Schools affected include Robert E. Lee High School (to become Margaret Long Wisdom High School), Stonewall Jackson Middle School (to become Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence) and John H. Reagan High School (to become Heights High School), among others. Sidney Lanier Middle School wouldn’t even need many changes: It would become Bob Lanier, named for the former Houston mayor.

Still, parents aren’t happy.

“It is a sad day when taxpayers and parents have to file a lawsuit to make the school district honor their duty as public servants,” Dolcefino said. “HISD will now waste more taxpayer money to defend their arrogance.”

HISD spokeswoman Lila Hollin said that the district estimates the changes will cost no more than $2 million — money that will be spent on things like new signage, band uniforms and sports jerseys.

But that’s $2 million too much in the eyes of some parents whose kids will have access to fewer resources thanks to large budget cuts the district just approved this month. Facing a $95 million shortfall, the board decided to cut its teacher bonus program and also squash remaining portions of its longstanding tutoring program, Apollo. Overall, the district will spend $179 less per student.

So even in the name of diversity, perhaps buying a lot of new signs and sports jerseys is bad timing, for now.

Perhaps, though one could certainly argue that this change was long overdue, and that if a previous Board had tackled the issue as it should have, we wouldn’t be having this fight now. I have no opinion on the merits of the suit, I’ll just say again that having a school named after you is a privilege and not a right. Whatever happens with this lawsuit, I feel confident that this controversy will fade over time.

HISD finishes renaming schools

From last week:

Eight names that have adorned Houston school buildings, uniforms and yearbooks for decades will vanish next year after trustees came together Thursday to approve new ones without Confederate ties.

The renaming decisions followed months of controversy that had split the school board, heightened racial tensions, and fueled mixed reactions from parents, students and alumni. Before the votes Thursday, however, the four trustees who initially opposed the renaming process, criticizing the lack of community input, said they would back away from their resistance; in some cases, they abstained.

“Let’s come together and take this energy and really steer it toward our students,” said trustee Greg Meyers, who previously opposed the renaming items. “We’ll get past this. No matter what the name, it’s what happens inside.”

The new names will take effect in the fall. Reagan High School will become Heights High after its neighborhood. Davis High similarly will change to Northside High. Lee High will take the name of former longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom.

Johnston Middle will become Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School. Jackson Middle will turn into Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence, after the late East End civic leader. Dowling Middle will take the name of Audrey H. Lawson, after the late charter school founder and first lady of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.

Lanier Middle will swap only its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Sidney Lanier, a poet who had served as a private in the Confederate Army.

The board voted in March to change Grady Middle School to Tanglewood.

See here and here for the background. My feelings about this haven’t changed since I wrote that second post. I feel confident that in due time, most people will forget this ever happened. It would have been a much better process if HISD had taken the time to put forth a statement of principles and standards for this process and solicited public input to make recommendations for the Board to consider; as John Nova Lomax has written on more than one occasion, the choice of schools to be renamed – or not, as in the case of Mirabeau B. Lamar High School – and the selection of substitute names has been haphazard and uneven, which is a big part of the reason this was as controversial as it was. There’s no reason why HISD can’t do this as a review process, if it wants to. I’ll understand if everyone is just happy to be done with this, but at the very least, we should make sure we know what we’re doing if we ever decide to do it again. In the meantime, I hope that the threatened legal action over these name changes does not come about. The Press has more.

Three more HISD schools to be renamed

I have three things to say about this.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

The new campuses to be renamed, joining four others approved on split votes in January, are Albert Sidney Johnston and Sidney Lanier middle schools and Jefferson Davis High School. Johnston was a high-ranking Confederate general, Lanier was a Confederate soldier and poet, and Davis was president of the Confederacy.

Nearly all the votes were along racial lines, with the black and Hispanic board members voting in favor of the name changes.

Committees at each school now are charged with proposing new names by May.

Supportive of the changes, James Douglas, president of the NAACP of Houston, told the school board about a recent conversation he had with a younger African-American about the Confederacy and the naming debate.

“Where would you be today if they had won?” Douglas asked. “I said, ‘Do you feel proud having to go into a school that honors a person who intended to keep you in slavery?'”

A few dozen speakers – parents, students and community members – expressed mixed views. Some agreed the names sent the wrong message, while those supportive of keeping Lanier’s name said he was a young, low-level soldier who redeemed himself as a writer. Others questioned the price tag as the district faces a projected $107 million budget shortfall.

Renaming all eight campuses – Reagan High School is expected to come before the board again – would cost an estimated $2 million, based on district figures.

“I’ll take dignity over dollars,” said trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who led the effort last year to change the district’s policy to allow the board to order renaming. The move followed the shooting deaths last June at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

See here for the background. My thoughts:

1. As I’ve said before, having something named after you – school, street, park, whatever – is a privilege, not a right. Names may change to reflect changing sentiments, populations, priorities, something else. Having something renamed doesn’t necessarily mean we no longer like or approve of the person for whom it had been named before. It may just mean it was time for a change.

2. That said, I have zero sympathy for anyone associated with the Confederacy. Maybe it’s just the Yankee in me, but people who took up arms against the United States are in no way worthy of honor. Renaming a school that had borne the moniker of a Confederate figure doesn’t mean we’re “burying” our history – frankly, the discussion we’ve had this past year about who we have named various things after and why those names were chosen, especially at that time, has been more illuminating of our history than any class I’ve ever taken – it means we’re renaming a school.

3. And having said that, I do have sympathy for those who have tried to draw a distinction between the likes of Sidney Lanier, who was a soldier but not a leader in the Confederacy and who came to be known for much more than his time in the Confederate army, and the likes of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Perhaps part of the issue here is that the discussion we haven’t had is what our standards are for naming (in this case) schools after various figures, and what the disqualifying factors may be. Among other things, that may force us to come to terms with other people who have highly questionable legacies but were not a part of this discussion, such as Mirabeau Lamar. I doubt there’s an objective standard that we could use, and even if there were I’m sure there would still be cases that would generate controversy, but this would at least address the criticism that the HISD Board has acted in a haphazard manner.

HISD board moves to change some school names

There may be more to come at a later date.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

The five-trustee majority also voted to rename Henry Grady, Richard Dowling and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson middle schools and Robert E. Lee High School.

Now, a committee at each school, including a teacher, student, parent and alumnus, will be charged with proposing a new name to the district administration. The policy then calls for the superintendent to make recommendations to the board for a vote – expected to take place in May, according to the meeting agenda.

[Outgoing Board President Rhonda] Skillern-Jones had included eight schools on the renaming list, but trustees agreed to remove four – Lanier and Johnston middle schools and Davis and Reagan high schools – to allow for more discussion.

[New Trustee Jolanda] Jones, who represents Lanier, posted Wednesday on Twitter that she supported changing the school’s name. However, on Thursday she proposed removing the campus from the immediate renaming list to host a meeting at the school.

“Sidney Lanier was a confederate soldier despite what some say,” Jones posted on social media. “I would vote 2 change an anti-Semitic name if asked 2.”

Numerous parents and students from Lanier dressed in the school’s purple color and urged the board to keep the name. Sidney Lanier, they said, is better known as a poet than as a soldier in the Confederate army.

“This is clearly a very important question, and it brings out a lot of emotion on both sides of the issue,” Adriane Arnold, president of the Lanier parent group, told the board. “It is something our kids will be discussing at Lanier moving forward.”

Trustee Harvin Moore tried to postpone the renaming item “indefinitely,” but it failed on a 4-5 vote. He and Eastman said their votes on the board-driven items were not statements on the merits but on the process.

“I don’t think my vote represents pro-celebration of the Confederacy at all,” Eastman said.

Skillern-Jones backed the idea of renaming schools after the shooting deaths of nine black church worshippers in Charleston, S.C.

Skillern-Jones, who is black, said later that her colleagues should not have been surprised that she packed the agenda.

“I decided to stop listening to all the reasons why we can kick the can down the road and become more proactive about stopping that inequity that has persisted in this district since I came here in kindergarten,” she said.

See here, here, and here for some background. Skillern-Jones discussed her plans to push this issue in the interview she did with me last year; she described it as something she was proud to do. The specific list of schools to be renamed generated a lot of discussion, mostly having to do with Sidney Lanier. Texas Monthly wrote a piece sympathetic to Lanier, mostly expressing the viewpoint of former Lanier teacher and champion debate coach Jim Henley. Henley and Mike Bordelon, writing in Gray Matters, expanded on that. Andrea Greer pushed back. I support the overall move to rename these schools, though I’m still thinking about the Lanier case, but I will note two things. One, having a school named for oneself is a privilege, not a right. Two, however one feels about the particulars, having this discussion has been a very good thing. I’ve sure learned a lot from it. It’s easy to go through life without giving much if any thought as to why certain places are named the way they are, and what those names may mean to people. I know this because I’ve done it. Talking about these names, and hearing about what others think about them, has been enlightening, to say the least. If this conversation and the possibility of changing some names makes anyone uncomfortable or upset, consider that not talking about it and leaving things as they are because no one is interested in talking about it also makes people uncomfortable and upset. The Press has more.

HISD will begin process of renaming schools with Confederate ties

Good.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

[HISD] trustees plan to start the process with a vote to revise the district’s policy to state explicitly that names should be non-discriminatory. The revised policy also details how the board can initiate renaming schools.

Board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones said this week that after the policy gains approval, she will propose renaming at least six schools named after Confederate leaders or loyalists.

In June, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called on the Houston Independent School District to rename six campuses following the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers by an alleged white supremacist in Charleston, S.C. Ellis mentioned campuses including Davis, Lee and Reagan high schools and Dowling, Jackson and Johnston middle schools.

Alumni have expressed mixed reactions.

Renaming is expected to come with a cost – for new logos, school uniforms, marquees. The estimated price tag was $250,000 in 2013 when HISD changed the Confederate-linked Rebels mascot and three others deemed offensive to Native Americans.

[…]

“I’m pleased to see the HISD board move in this direction,” Ellis said in a statement Wednesday. “As an extremely diverse school district in the most diverse city in the nation, the names of our community schools should not lionize men who dedicated themselves to maintaining the ability of one human to own another.”

See here and here for the background. That story was published Thursday morning, before the board meeting, at which Superintendent Terry Grier announced his imminent departure. I didn’t see any followup story, so I’m presuming this went ahead; if not, I’m sure it will be picked up at the next meeting. I’ve said before that I support this. Having a school named after you is a privilege, not a right. I have no idea why anyone would think it controversial to reserve that privilege for people who didn’t take up arms against the United States, but maybe that’s just the Yankee in me talking. I’ve never known a school named for Benedict Arnold, so I don’t know why there should be a school named for Jefferson Davis. The fact that there is such a school here in Houston, and that the board of trustees is seeking to change it isn’t an insult to anyone. The insult is that it was named for Jefferson Davis in the first place.

Legislators ask for a task force to review Capitol monuments to the Confederacy

Fine by me.

On the same day that the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds, five Democratic lawmakers asked Gov. Greg Abbott to consider the appropriateness of the Confederate monuments at their own Capitol.

In a letter sent Monday to Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, Democrats in the House and Senate asked for the creation of a task force to consider whether the numerous Confederate monuments, markers and statutes on the Capitol grounds are “historically accurate, whether they are appropriately located on the Capitol grounds, and whether any changes are needed.”

The letter was signed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sylvester Turner, all Houston Democrats; state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

“As these debates play out across our country and state, we ask you to consider the Texas Capitol itself: the building in which we have the honor of working on behalf of all Texans,” the letter reads. “The Texas Capitol grounds feature numerous monuments dedicated to the Confederacy, many of which espouse a whitewashed version of history.”

[…]

There are more than a dozen markers on the Capitol grounds that overtly reference the Confederacy, according to the State Preservation Board. Those include a Confederate Soldiers’ Monument on the south grounds and several portraits that hang in the Capitol chambers.

In the letter, the lawmakers cited the need to assess certain markers — including a plaque in a first-floor corridor of the Capitol honoring the “Children of the Confederacy” — that “assert the outright falsehood” that the Civil War “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

The lawmakers asked that the task force be made up of business, religious and education leaders to allow for a “serious conversation about how best to honor Texas’ heritage and past – while at the same time ensuring historical accuracy and that we celebrate figures worthy of our praise.”

The letter they signed is here. I doubt this will go anywhere – Greg Abbott doesn’t appear to care, as there’s no votes in it for him – but as with HISD schools, I favor having the conversation. And let’s be clear, these are monuments to people who took up arms against the country in defense of slavery, and these monuments were not contemporaneous remembrances but recent additions, put up in defiance of desegregation and the civil rights movement. At a time when we are seeking to distort and deny our own history about the Civil War, this discussion couldn’t be more timely and necessary. This issue is not going to go away. Be sure to see RG Ratcliffe for more.

The debate over changing Confederate-named schools in HISD

Predictably, not everybody likes the idea of rechristening HISD schools that were named for Confederate generals.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Houston ISD board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones has said she wants her fellow trustees to consider renaming six campuses, following the June shooting deaths of nine black worshipers by an alleged white supremacist at a church in South Carolina. In that state, the Confederate flag hangs on statehouse grounds.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and James Douglas, president of the NAACP of Houston, are among those requesting new names. Superintendent Terry Grier said he is seriously considering asking the board to approve changes.

A consensus is far from clear.

A Facebook page called “Reagan High School Houston – Save the Name” has received more than 1,200 “likes” since it launched June 28. Former Lee students mostly came to the moniker’s defense on an alumni page.

[…]

School officials stopped using the full name, Robert E. Lee High School, in 2001, though a district spokeswoman could not confirm whether the board formally approved the shorter version. The mascot remains the Generals, but the revised logo looks more like a silhouetted cowboy holding a school flag.

Marla Morrow, a U.S. history teacher at Lee and a 1980 graduate, recalled her classmates proudly waving the Confederate flag at football games. Then, the student demographics of the southwest Houston school were different. According to data from 1988, the earliest year readily available, Lee’s enrollment was 46 percent Anglo, 31 percent Hispanic, 17 percent black and 6 percent other. Last year, Lee was 4 percent Anglo, 74 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black, and 8 percent Asian and other.

With HISD rebuilding the aging Lee campus, Morrow said the time is right to rename the school without reference to the top Confederate general.

“I was raised to believe he was this great mythical hero,” she said. “With my study of the Civil War and of U.S. history, I think he was an admirable man in many ways, but he was fighting for the wrong side. I know people say the South was fighting for states’ rights, but the right they were fighting to defend was slavery.”

Melanie Hauser, a 1971 Lee graduate who chaired the spirit committee and helped start the alumni association, countered that the school name should endure. She noted that Lee graduated from West Point and served as president of Virginia’s Washington College (now Washington and Lee University, named after him).

“He was an educator first and foremost,” said Hauser, a sportswriter. “Lee moved on and helped heal the country. There’s more to the narrative than just screaming one way.”

Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a 1987 Lee graduate, said he leans toward changing the name but wants a community dialogue first.

“It’s not to say we castigate our history forever,” he said, “but should it be prominent with every graduating class going forward when there’s an opportunity to pivot and change?”

See here for the background. I’ll say again, as a damn Yankee I’m woefully ignorant of the Confederate iconography that we are inescapably steeped in around here, and completely indifferent to any appeal to history or “heritage” in favor of keeping it in place, unless that place is a museum or the like. It’s fine by me to change these names, but if we don’t get there at least we’re talking about what those names represent. Campos has more.

HISD Board President backs changing Confederate school names

Fine by me.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Amid a growing move to shed symbols of the old, slave-owning South, the Houston school board president said Thursday that she supports renaming six campuses named after Confederate loyalists.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones said she plans to discuss the issue with her fellow trustees at an upcoming meeting. Superintendent Terry Grier added that he is “strongly considering” recommending that the board change the names.

The nation’s seventh-largest school district would join a mounting list of agencies and businesses taking steps to shun reminders of the Confederacy following the June 17 shooting deaths of nine black church worshippers by an alleged white supremacist in Charleston, S.C.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, sent a letter to the Houston Independent School District Wednesday urging the renaming of six campuses named after Confederate army officers or others tied to the Confederacy: Dowling, Jackson and Johnston middle schools and Davis, Lee and Reagan high schools.

“Remembering our past is important, especially if you want to avoid making the same mistakes,” Ellis wrote. “But we can teach our students about the evils of the past without endorsing the actions of those who fought to uphold them. When we honor hate at our schools, we teach hate to our children.”

Ellis previously urged HISD to eradicate certain mascots. In 2013, the school board, at Grier’s recommendation, agreed to abandon the Rebels mascot, a symbol tied to the Confederacy, and three others considered offensive to Native Americans.

“Just as we engaged in the important work around changing the inappropriate mascots,” Skillern-Jones said, “we should also engage in that equally important work around making sure that our schools are named after individuals that wholeheartedly represent what our district stands for and the diversity in the district.”

Here are the op-ed and letter that Sen. Ellis wrote. This conversation isn’t just happening in Houston, as cities like Austin and San Antonio have Robert E. Lee schools as well. Lee is a legitimately important historical figure with ties to Texas that predate the Civil War, but that doesn’t mean he – or any other figure – deserves to have schools named after him. As with the school mascots that got renamed last year, I see no reason not to take this seriously. And as with the mascots, I expect there will be some heated dissent, from current and former students of these schools as well as other folks with various motives, and if the decision is made to make a change then a year or two from now hardly anyone will remember any of it.

You may ask, why now? These schools have been around with these names for a long time. As with the mascots and with the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage, the time is right. The horrible mass shooting in South Carolina and the stated reasons for it by the shooter have opened the door for this conversation, and many people who would not have been amenable to it for whatever the reason a month or a year or a decade ago now are. Why not now?

And if we start this conversation about Confederate generals, what then?

I wonder if they are going to include slave owners from the past. How about those that supported segregation or opposed civil rights and voting rights. How about some of the folks that help found the state of Texas and nearly succeeded in making Native-Americans an extinct people. These same folks also made Texas a slave-owning state. How does one define hate? I wonder where they will draw the line. I am glad Board President Skillern-Jones and Sen. Ellis are the deciders and not me. Go for it!

I’m sure plenty of people will be making “slippery slope” arguments now that this can of worms has been opened. I get that, but you know what? I do not and will not accept such arguments as a reason to end the conversation. Nothing in the Constitution says that once a school – or park, or bridge, or street, or courthouse, or whatever – has been named for someone, it must remain named for that person forevermore. Let’s have this conversation, in full and in public. I welcome it, and I welcome the awkwardness that a lot of people, including myself, will feel about it. You want to move past the symbolism of a handful of governors lowering the Confederate flag in their states? This would be a fine place to start. Let’s get it all out there. What are we afraid of?