Since the South Carolina shooting three weeks ago, many groups ranging from the South Carolina Senate to NASCAR have taken a stance against Confederate symbols.
Accompanying story by Estefania Espinosa
When you walk through the south gate of the Texas Capitol grounds, one of the first things you see is a large monument honoring Confederate soldiers. Confederacy President Jefferson Davis stands tall in the center, surrounded by figures who represent the infantry, cavalry, artillery and navy.
This historical structure is part of a national debate concerning the Confederate flag and related symbols, such as commemorative statues. Although what some call racist, others call heritage.
On June 17, Dylann Roof reportedly opened fire in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people. After Roof’s arrest, photos of him posing with the Confederate flag were made public.
Since the shooting, many groups ranging from the South Carolina Senate to NASCAR have taken a stance against Confederate symbols. National retailers such as Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Etsy have taken Confederate merchandise off the market.
Some local stores have followed suit and others have not. The Quonset Hut, a military surplus store has stopped selling Confederate memorabilia in response to the Charleston shooting. However, Banana Bay Tactical, a tactical supply store, has no plans of removing their Confederate flags, pins, magnets and bumper stickers from their establishment.
Austin Flag and Flagpole, A locally-owned store, also carries the Texas “stars and bars” flag, the official Confederate battle flag for the state of Texas during the Civil War. The flag is currently sold out.
The Austin school board has also formed a committee to discuss the renaming of four AISD schools named after Confederates. The institutions in question include Robert E. Lee Elementary School, Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus, Sidney Lanier High School, and John H. Reagan High School.
While Lee and Johnston are Confederate generals, Lanier was a famous confederate poet while Reagan was the postmaster general for the confederacy.
Hays High School has also received about a half-dozen formal requests about changing their mascot, the rebel.
“The school board does not meet in July, so there is no current plan to make any changes. However, this is an issue that will continue to be evaluated,” the school said in an official statement released in June.
A community meeting is planned for August where renaming will be discussed. After that, it will be up to the District’s Board of Equity to make a recommendation to the trustees.
“I think it speaks to some of our darkest part of our history, in our country and certainly here in Austin,” City Council member Paul Saldana said in an interview with KVUE.
Meanwhile, the University of Texas at Austin is also under pressure from students to remove statues depicting Confederates.
Student Government president Xavier Rotnofsky and vice-president Rohit Mandalapu started an online petition to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from the university’s Main Mall. Over 3,000 supporters signed the document.
UT President Gregory L. Fenves convened a 12-member panel in charge of analyzing the significance of the statues, reviewing past and current controversies, and recommending alternatives for these figures. Fenves also plans on hearing student input through public forums. The first of two public forums about this issue was held on Tuesday. The next forum will be on July 15 at 3 p.m. in the San Jacinto Hall Multipurpose Room. Fenves expects the panel’s recommendations by Aug. 1, and will take them into consideration before making a decision about the placement of the statues.
An obelisk on Capitol grounds topped by a statue of an armed soldier is a memorial to members of John B. Hood’s Texas Brigade Army. The Confederate national flag and the Confederate battle flag are engraved on the side, along with hand-carved quotes by Davis and Lee.
A bronze plaque inside the Capitol reads the mission statement of the Texas Chapter of Children of the Confederacy, which aims to “teach the truths of history… one of the most important of which is that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”
There is also a Capitol building named after John H. Reagan, postmaster general of the Confederacy, and a portrait of Davis in the Senate chamber.
Regardless of what the school board or Fenves decide, this will continue to be a point of conversation for the country in the foreseeable future.
The city also has two chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Presidents of both chapters were contacted and both declined to comment. There is also one chapter of the Sons of the Confederacy, of which former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is an active member. Patterson was vocal in the symbolism behind the confederate flag, and helped in organizing the re-dedication of the Hood monument at the Capitol.
“People have a constitutional right to be offended, but tough shit,” Patterson said in an interview with the Texas Observer. “We need to honor those young men who answered the call in 1861. It’s unequivocal that the average soldier wasn’t fighting for slavery.”
Text and photo captions by Estefania Espinosa. Photos, graphics and podcast by myself, Lauren Lowe.