A new study from the Southern Poverty Law Center says Texas has removed 31 Confederate symbols over the last three years — more than any other state in the nation.
The civil rights group began tracking these markers in 2015, after a white supremacist shot and killed nine African-American parishioners at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina. Since that massacre, 110 Confederate symbols have been removed across the country — from monuments to name changes for schools, parks and streets.
“I think that’s really important because all the other decades of our history have been building these monuments as opposed to rejecting the history of slavery connected with the Confederacy and starting to remove them,” Heidi Beirich with the Southern Poverty Law Center told public radio's Texas Standard.
Beirich said Texas has been a “trailblazer” in removing monuments and other nods to the Confederacy.
“Because you see so many communities, first of all that have removed a bunch of monuments, street names and so on, but also just wide conversations about this,” she said.
Most of the removals or changes have been in the state's major cities, like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. One notable exception: Denton County commissioners voted last winter to keep the Confederate monument on the square in downtown Denton.
“Austin is where the most change has been made,” Beirich said. “But that said, Austin still has quite a few Confederate symbols — a lot of them kind of near the Capitol, which I think is sort of interesting.”
While Texas has removed the most Confederate markers since 2015, it still has more than 200 remaining — second only to Virginia.
Nationwide, the study identified more than 1,700 publicly sponsored symbols honoring Confederate leaders or the Confederate States of America, itself.
Confederate symbols in Dallas
The debate over what to do with Confederate symbols in Dallas was happening before a car plowed through a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally in August in Charlottesville, Virginia. The violence prompted Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to form a task force to address the city’s Confederate symbols.
In September, the city removed a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Oak Lawn Park (renamed from Lee Park). That same month, the Dallas school district voted to change the names of four schools.
But addressing all of the city’s nods to the Confederacy is still ongoing.
The City Council in April approved adding context to Confederate art in Fair Park and constructing a memorial of the lynching of Allen Brooks. But council members remain undecided on whether to demolish the Confederate War Memorial at Pioneer Park Cemetery in downtown Dallas and whether to remove the base from Oak Lawn Park, where the Lee statue once stood.
Confederate plaque at the state Capitol
This week, Joe Straus, the Republican Speaker of the Texas House, called for the removal of a Confederate plaque in the state Capitol.
He says it contains two historical inaccuracies: that slavery was not the underlying cause of the Civil War and that the war was not a rebellion.
In a brief sent to the Texas Attorney General, Straus’ office argues the State Preservation Board has the authority to remove the Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque, even though the board said in a statement that it’s not sure how to proceed.
State Representative Eric Johnson, a Democrat from Dallas, has been trying for months to have the plaque removed and points out it was installed in 1959.
“In 2018, there’s no reason for us still to be holding on to fables and that plaque is a fable,” Johnson told KUT in Austin. “It’s telling a story that is just counterfactual. It just didn’t happen. Slavery is absolutely the cause of the civil war. It’s right there in our secession documents.”
Straus’ brief points out that even the group that installed the plaque has abandoned the historical inaccuracy. Three years ago, the United Daughters of the Confederacy removed the phrase about slavery from the Children of the Confederacy Creed.
There are more than a dozen monuments, markers and statues on Capitol grounds that mention the Confederacy.
KERA content partners Texas Standard and KUT in Austin contributed to this report.