News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News

Dallas is 4-0 in battles over Confederate statues and monuments — with one more lawsuit pending

lee_park_statue.jpg
Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News
The City of Dallas is still battling over the removal of statues and monuments honoring Confederates.

Years after the city of Dallas decided to take down statues honoring Confederate soldiers and leaders, it’s still fighting court battles over their removal. That information comes from an annual report released by the City Attorney’s office on Tuesday.

The City of Dallas has won 4 out of 5 lawsuits filed to stop the monuments from being removed.

Hundreds of Confederate statues and monuments were erected across the county in the early 20th century, decades after the southern states lost their war to preserve slavery.

In 2017, the Dallas City Council decided to take down a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee that was installed in 1936. It took two years and three lawsuits but the statue came down in 2019.

In 2020, the city removed the 65-foot Confederate Monument in Pioneer Cemetery Park after a protracted legal battle. It’s now in archival storage. One case is still being appealed.

Here’s what the State of the City Attorney's Office Report for fiscal year 2020/2021 said about the lawsuits:

The General Litigation Section of the City Attorney’s Office has handled five separately filed lawsuits, and multiple related appeals, challenging the city’s removal of city-owned symbols of the Confederacy. The city has prevailed in each lawsuit. Only one of the appeals remains pending. 

Background 

In August 2017, Mayor Mike Rawlings appointed a task force to consider whether to remove Confederate monuments on city property and rename streets and other public places named for Confederate figures. On September 6, 2017, the City Council authorized the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in what was then Lee Park (now Turtle Creek Park). The Lee statue, which was installed in 1936, was removed and placed in storage. The City Council also directed the task force to hold public meetings, which it did. The City Council authorized the sale of the Lee statue in May 2019, and it was sold at public auction in June 2019. The sale agreement specified that the statue could not be publicly displayed in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area and the restriction applies to any future owner.

The Confederate Monument consisted of a 65-foot-tall obelisk with a Confederate soldier on its top and statues of four Confederate generals at its base. It was originally placed in City Park in 1897 and was relocated to Pioneer Cemetery Park in 1961. In February 2019, the City Council directed that the monument be removed. However, before removal could begin, the city was enjoined by the Dallas Court of Appeals because of a pending appeal. In June 2020, the city requested, and the court of appeals allowed the city to proceed with removal. The monument was removed by the end of June 2020 and placed in archival storage. 

Litigation 

Hiram Patterson and Sons of Confederate Veterans v. Rawlings, et al. 

In this first lawsuit, filed in September 2017, the plaintiffs sued in federal court to enjoin removal of the Lee statue and other monuments and to obtain title to two cemeteries in which Confederate soldiers are buried. The city obtained dismissal of all claims on the basis that the plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue the claims because they were not personally injured and because the City Council’s decision to remove the monuments was government speech and not a violation of the First Amendment. The court entered judgment for the city in February 2018 and the plaintiffs did not appeal.

Return Lee to Lee Park and Katherine Gann v. Rawlings, et al. 

This lawsuit resulted in five trial court and appellate proceedings. The plaintiffs filed in state court in April 2018 and argued that the Lee Statue could not be sold and that the Confederate Monument could not be removed. They claimed the monuments were protected state historical landmarks and that their removal was prohibited under the state’s Antiquities Code. The trial court granted judgment for the city in April 2019, and the plaintiffs appealed. While the appeal was pending the appellate court issued an order preventing the removal of the Confederate Monument during the appeal. After the George Floyd protests in 2020, the city petitioned the appellate court to remove and safely store the monument due to concerns about damage and potential violence, and that motion was granted. The city won the appeal. The plaintiffs filed a petition for review in the Texas Supreme Court, which was denied in September 2021. 

Warren Johnson v. Rawlings, et al. The plaintiff filed this lawsuit in federal court in January 2019 and sought an injunction to prevent removal of the granite base of the Lee statue, prevent removal of other monuments, and allow inspection of the Lee statue that was in storage at the time. He claimed standing to sue as a taxpayer of the city for violation of his First Amendment rights. The court denied the injunction and ultimately dismissed all of plaintiffs’ claims. 

Chris Carter and Karen Pieroni v. City Plan Commission and City of Dallas 

The Confederate Monument in Pioneer Cemetery required a certificate of demolition from the City Landmark Commission before it could be removed. The Landmark Commission granted the certificate, and these plaintiffs appealed to the City Plan Commission (the “CPC”), which upheld the decision. The plaintiffs then appealed the CPC decision to state court. They argued the monument was protected by the Antiquities Code as a state archeological landmark. The matter spawned six separate legal filings, including the CPC hearing, trial court, and four appellate proceedings. The city prevailed in the trial court in March 2020 and in the Dallas Court of Appeals in March 2021. The Texas Supreme Court denied plaintiffs’ petition for review in September 2021. 

Eugene Robinson v. City of Dallas and Jennifer Scripps 

The plaintiff filed suit in state court in June 2020 to try to prevent removal of the Confederate Monument. The trial court denied an injunction and later issued final judgment for the city defendants in April 2021. The plaintiff appealed.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org .You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.