This is the letter Michael Phillips and I are gathering signatures for. We expect to have 20 or 30 local scholars sign if not more. Michael Phillips was interviewed today for WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas, Texas about removing the monument. It is supposed to air 10pm tonight.
http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/letters-petition-sent-to-end-dallas-confederate-monuments/458080268 News coverage of the letter.
http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/letters-petition-sent-to-end-dallas-confederate-monuments/458080268 News coverage of the letter.
The letter has been published at the Dallas Morning News. https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2017/08/04/dallas-confederate-memorials-scream-white-supremacy
To the people of Dallas, Members of the Dallas City Council, and Trustees of the Dallas School Board from the Committee of Scholars:
As Kathryn Allamong Jacob masterfully explains in her book, “Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C”:
“Mundane as they may appear, ubiquitous as they may be, public monuments constitute serious cultural authority. They are important precisely because, by their mere presence and their obvious expense, they impose a memory of an event or individual on the public landscape that orders our lives. These monuments confer a legitimacy upon the memory they embody. Their size and costliness testify to its importance. And by imprinting one memory, they erase others.”
Furthermore, monuments have authority because of their prominent placement in public locations, often near prestigious institutions or government buildings. Their location implies that the community endorses the ideals the monuments represent. Jacob explains that “public monuments help shape collective memory. They weave an intricate web of remembrance in which certain threads are highlighted, or validated, while others are dropped or disappear.”
This effort to shape the public’s understanding of the past is a method of shaping the values of the present. If someone is supposedly a hero fighting for a cause, then the cause that person fought for
must have been heroic as
well. A monument to a movement or nation
or event inherently defines that movement, nation, or event as being glorious.
Monuments monumentally endorse a set of values.
Monuments in public spaces represent what the city, county, state or nation seeks to represent as its core beliefs. Monuments work to shape identity. Shaping identities and influencing values is a strategy to influence, if not control, the future.
Every Confederate monument standing today loudly proclaims that, whatever might be said about civil rights and racial equality in contemporary political discourse, that the enduring values of this place, this city, and this people is white supremacy.
Discussion of Confederate monuments has focused on what offense they might give to African Americans, but it is overlooked that they poison others with their message of white supremacy. It is not surprising that white nationalist Richard Spencer grew up in Dallas and marches in defense of Confederate monuments, for he grew up in the shadow of such edifices.
Every Confederate monument proclaims that African American lives, their suffering, and the crimes committed against them really don’t matter. For if African American lives mattered these monuments would be gone. These monuments instruct the public, including judges, police officers, and jurors that fair treatment under the law for African Americans represents an avoidable inconvenience. The plaque at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center honoring Robert E. Lee in the hallway to the Dallas County Central Jury Room instructs those jurors that African American freedom is expendable.
These monuments also instruct African American youth, that despite all the claims that might be made in the schools, that their hopes and their dreams are not treasured by society. British journalist of Barbadian descent, Gary Younge, in his book, “No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey Through the American South,” describes his feelings while walking amidst a series of one hundred-year-old statues depicting Confederate leaders on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia:
I turned around to walk back up Monument Avenue, feeling angry and confused… I had spent about an hour walking along a road in which four men who fought to enslave me… have been honoured and exalted. I resented the fact that on the way to work every day, black people have to look at that. Imagine how black children must feel when they learn that the people who have been raised and praised up the road are the same ones who tried to keep their great-great-grandparents in chains.
Confederate monuments are ongoing source of alienation. We should not be surprised that when alienation is taught, in the schools, in political debates, and in public spaces that young people receive the message and become alienated themselves.
The city has a massive Confederate War Memorial near the Dallas Convention Center. This work features statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Albert Sidney Johnston, as well as the Confederacy’s only president, Jefferson Davis. The figures surround a statue of a Confederate soldier atop a 60-foot pillar. One inscription on the monument pays tribute to “the genius and valor of Confederate seamen.”
We have a Robert E. Lee Park in Oak Lawn that features an equestrian statue of the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia near a replica of a slavery-era plantation home. Meanwhile, multiple sculptures referencing the Confederacy and the Great Seal of the Confederate States of America can be found at Fair Park. A Confederate flag hangs at Fair Park’s Great Hall, which also includes a massive medallion on one wall incorporating a female figure representing the Confederacy. A mural featuring portraits of Confederate generals John Bell Hood, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Dick Dowling adorns another wall.
Although the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School will be changed, there are numerous other Dallas schools named after prominent Confederate military officers and political leaders: William Cabell, William H. Gaston, John Ireland, Sidney Lanier, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Sidney Johnston, John H. Reagan, and Oran M. Roberts.
Some of the individuals honored have no direct relationship to Dallas history while some figured prominently in Dallas’ past, but all willingly, and often enthusiastically, participated in a treasonous war fought to preserve chattel slavery, that caused the deaths of 750,000 Americans and the maiming of tens of thousands more, and attempted to tear the nation asunder. The time has come for these tributes to the Confederacy to come down and for public buildings that bear the names of those whose fame is primarily tied to their service to a slave republic to assume a new identity.
Most loathsome of Dallas’s monuments, and perhaps singularly loathsome of Confederate monuments everywhere is the one-third replica of Robert E. Lee’s plantation home, Arlington House, in Lee Park. Weddings frequently take place there. Plantations were sites of the rape, beating, and torture of slaves. The faux plantation features a portrait of Robert E. Lee, a white supremacist who fought for slavery and white supremacy. The participants in such weddings demonstrate
by their actions that they consider the horrors of slavery a triviality.
They befoul their marriages and bequeath to any heirs a legacy of racial
callousness and indifference to evil.
These monuments have stood mostly unchallenged for decades because the American history textbooks used in public schools are in themselves largely, metaphorically, Confederate monuments, which obscure, if not erase history, diminish the value of African American lives, and train generations of Americans to not comprehend the horrors of human bondage as practiced in the United States.
The Robert E. Lee so elaborately honored at Lee Park and elsewhere in Dallas was a harsh slave master. Wesley Norris, who suffered the misfortune of being owned by Lee, recounted that he endured a beating after he attempted to escape in 1859. When Norris was captured, Lee said he would teach Norris “a lesson he would never forget.” Norris offered the following account of what happened next:
[H]e then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.
During the Civil War Lee stated that slavery represented the most appropriate relationship between whites and African Americans since African Americans were an inferior race. After the Civil War, Lee campaigned against granting African Americans civil rights. He stated in testimony to the Reconstruction Committee of Congress that Virginia would be better off if it got rid of African Americans.
This is the man families honor when they hold weddings at Lee Park at the replication of Arlington House. Consciously or not, they celebrate their marriage by paying tribute to the slave past. For this reason, the clergy should not agree to perform weddings at Arlington House. Whatever the resolutions, position papers or published policies of denominations might be regarding race, whatever fine phrases these proclamations might say, religious leaders of prominent churches, temples, and other places of worship who perform marriages at the Arlington House replica in Dallas will be complicit in a Robert E. Lee plantation wedding. They will give their seal of approval to a ceremony that renders frivolous the oppression of African Americans in the slavery era, whitewashes history, and promotes a white supremacist worldview.
Organizations that meet at the replica plantation house show contempt for African Americans as well. When the owners of properties like The Claridge, 21 Turtle Creek, 3525 Turtle Creek, The Mayfair, The Vendôme, and The Wyndemere sponsor “Lighting Up Lee Park” we see how the upper classes of Dallas embrace a duplicate Robert E. Lee plantation, and adorn it to celebrate the birth of Christ. What does this say about the Dallas Christian community that this doesn’t raise a cry of disgust?
These monuments glorify violent insurrectionists who sought to tear the United States of America apart. The implied endorsement of the Confederate cause these monuments represent is toxic to today’s politics. Multiple polls, both national and statewide, have shown disturbingly high percentages of the Texas public supporting secession. In May 2016, the Texas state Republican Party platform committee at their convention in Dallas astonishingly voted down a secession resolution by only 16 to 14 with one abstention. It might be thought that such a resolution would not get a single vote or even be presented for a vote by a mainstream political organization. This past June, participants in the Texas Boys State government education program sponsored by the American Legion, during an exercise in which they portrayed members of the state Legislature, voted for the secession of Texas from the United States. The tributes to the Confederacy that pockmark the landscape are teaching the state’s next generation of leaders that treason is an honorable political option.
Sadly, Americans today need to be reminded why secession took place in 1861. The purpose of the Confederacy was clearly to preserve white racial dictatorship. Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens made this clear in his infamous “Cornerstone Speech” on March 21, 1861, when he said that the Confederate nation that he and the other leaders of the secession movement hoped to establish rested “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
In the “Declaration of Causes Which Impel Texas to Secede from the Federal Union,” Feb. 2, 1861, of the Texas secession convention repeatedly cited slavery as the reason for leaving the Union:
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color—a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
For years past this abolition organization has been actively sowing the seeds of discord through the Union, and has rendered the federal congress the arena for spreading firebrands and hatred between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States.
By consolidating their strength, they have placed the slave-holding States in a hopeless minority in the federal congress, and rendered representation of no avail in protecting Southern rights against their exactions and encroachments.
. . . They have, through the mails and hired emissaries, sent seditious pamphlets and papers among us to stir up servile insurrection and bring blood and carnage to our firesides.
They have sent hired emissaries among us to burn our towns and distribute arms and poison to our slaves for the same purpose.
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.
To its shame, Dallas still honors the Confederacy, its institution of slavery, and Confederate leaders. It is time for these memorials to come down. Some will argue that the Confederate monuments are “history.” There is a fundamental difference, however, between history and propaganda. History does not have as its primary object glamorization. History is about analysis, context, and explaining the origins of ideas, institutions, and events. Confederate memorials do none of these things. We should not continue to honor the Confederacy even as there are people who played a critical and positive role in Dallas history who receive inadequate or no tribute such as:
· The African American slaves and sharecroppers whose unpaid labor built the city’s and the county’s economy.
· Carl Brannin, who fought for the rights of workers in Dallas.
· Jessie Daniel Ames who, unlike Lee, actually lived in Dallas and led the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.
· A. Maceo Smith, who led voter registration and poll tax payment drives in Dallas and was the man most responsible for the creation of the “Hall of Negro Life,” the only acknowledgement of the African American contribution to Texas culture and history at the state’s Centennial Fair held here in 1936.
· John Leslie Patton, a Dallas school principal who fought to bring a consciousness of African and African American history to black students in this city in the 1930s and 1940s.
· John Mason Brewer, who taught in this city in the 1930s and preserved for the ages Texas’ African American folklore.
· Juanita Craft, a leader of the Dallas NAACP who battled to end segregation at the State Fair at Fair Park.
· W.J. Durham, a local NAACP attorney who fought to end discrimination against African Americans at Neiman Marcus and other Dallas department stores.
· John W. “Preacher” Hays, who not only fought for Dallas workers but resisted racism within the white union movement.
· Pancho Medrano, a crusader for Latino/a, African American, and workers’ rights.
· Rabbi Levi Olan, an often-lonely voice for civil rights in Dallas in the late 1940s and the 1950s.
· Adelfa Callejo, who in 1961 became the first Latina to graduate from Southern Methodist University’s law school, who led protests against the murder of 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez by a Dallas police officer in 1973, who resisted selective and racist deportations of undocumented workers, and fought to democratize Dallas politics through single-member city council districts.
Confederate monuments, if left to stand, will proclaim a sad truth about Dallas to the world, that these accurately reflect the values of modern Dallas however much it might be denied.
The residents of Dallas have to decide who they want to be. Do they want to be the residents of an American city with democratic values that promote civil rights and racial equality, or do they want to be residents of a Confederate city with plantation values, with the values of a hierarchical society of inequality?
The residents of Dallas have to decide whether they want to leave the metaphysical plantation of the past and enter a brighter American future or to be forever prisoners of it.
In short, who do we want to be and what future do we wish to choose: American and democratic, or Confederate and anti-democratic?
Other cities have chosen the American future. The Charlottesville, Va. City Council voted to sell its Robert E. Lee statue. And this spring, the city of New Orleans made international headlines when it removed four racist monuments. Three were statues of Jefferson Davis, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee. The fourth was the so-called Liberty Place Monument, which glorified the assault by the White League, a Reconstruction-era racist organization that assaulted New Orleans’ bi-racial police force and temporarily overthrew a Republican governor accused of ushering in an era of “negro domination.”
As Mayor Landrieu said after the removal of the Lee statue in his city, “To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future . . . The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.”
More and more cities are choosing to give up the Confederacy. We can do this also, if we are willing to confront the reality of what these Dallas Confederate monuments do.
We ask the citizens of Dallas not to hold weddings or wedding receptions at Robert E. Lee Park or any other location that celebrates or attempts to honor the Confederacy and that guests not attend any such functions.
We ask the religious leaders not to perform weddings at Robert E. Lee Park or any other locations that celebrate the Confederacy, nor perform weddings which will later be celebrated at such places.
We ask businesses to not provide goods or services for plantation weddings at Robert E. Lee Park or any other locations that celebrate the Confederacy.
We ask that organizations not have events at Robert E. Lee Park or any other location that celebrates the Confederacy and we ask the citizens of Dallas not to attend any events at the Robert E. Lee Park or any other locations that honor the Confederate slave republic.
We ask that the city of Dallas to remove all Confederate monuments to storage or a museum. We ask that the city of Dallas to eliminate Confederate place names such as Robert E. Lee Park and Confederate Drive. We ask the city of Dallas to not celebrate or promote the Confederacy with sculpture and art work at Fair Park.
We ask the Dallas Independent School District rename all schools named after Confederate leaders: William Cabell, William H. Gaston, John Ireland, Sidney Lanier, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Sidney Johnston, John H. Reagan, and Oran M. Roberts and to not give the schools dual names under the pretext of historical preservation.
We ask the city of Dallas, the Dallas Independent School District, Dallas cultural institutions, and the people of Dallas to choose a path to a multiracial democratic American society and away from the dark past of white supremacy.
Dr. Michael Phillips
Collin College Department of History
Author of White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001
Editor of Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.
Dr. Chad Pearson
Collin College Department of History
Author of Reform or Repression: Organizing America’s Anti-Union Movement
We continue to get more co-signers.
Dr. Michael W. Waters, Founder and Senior Pastor, Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. Church, Dallas, Texas, Author of Stakes Is High: Race, Faith, and Hope for America.
Imam Omar Suleiman Director of the Islamic Learning Foundation of Texas And Resident Scholar at the Valley Ranch Islamic Center Irving, Texas
Ed Gray Master of Liberal Studies Southern Methodist University Dallas, Texas
Dr. Ed Countryman Southern Methodist University Department of History Dallas, Texas Author of Enjoy the Same Liberty: Black Americans and the Revolutionary Era.
Keith Volanto, Collin College, Dept. of History, Plano, Texas, Author of Texas, Cotton, and the New Deal.
Lisa Roy-Davis, Colin College Dept. of English, Plano, Texas
Dr. Neil Foley, Professor, Robert and Nancy Dedman Chair in History, Co-Director, Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist Univ. Author of The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture.
Rabbi Steve Fisch, Congregation Beth El Binah, Dallas, Texas