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San Antonians eager to spend their Fourth of July picnicking were laying down blankets and unpacking snacks as Mike Lowe and other Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered in front of the Confederate monument in Travis Park.
Their purpose was to demand that Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City of San Antonio remove the monument “immediately,” Lowe said prior to the rally. The demonstration included numerous speeches from community members at the park and a march through downtown to the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse.
Atop the monument to fallen soldiers in the Civil War stands a granite figure of a Confederate soldier pointing to the sky. At its base, a two-part inscription reads, “Lest We Forget” and “Our Confederate Dead.”
Mike Lowe is co-founder of the San Antonio organization SATX4. Originally named SATX4 Ferguson, the group formed to expose and protest systemic racial injustice following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed man who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
“Tomorrow is going to be the strike of the match under this new administration to push for the removal of this monument,” Lowe told the Rivard Report in a Monday phone interview. “[The monument is] a dedication to white supremacy and what white supremacy represents. We’re calling for an abolition of it.”
Around 50 people showed up to support the removal of the monument from public space. Eight members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SOCV) arrived to stand in favor of preserving the monument, including six dressed in Civil War period attire.
Aside from a few verbal exchanges, SOVC members did not interfere with the protest, which remained peaceful.
“Sons of Confederate Veterans is opposed to removing any monuments to Confederate heroes from Texas,” SOCV Public Information Officer Marshall Davis stated. “The men honored with these memorials fought nobly and bravely for their country, and many of them never came home. The Confederate Monument in Travis Park, as well as other monuments throughout Texas and the South, honor the brave deeds done by these men.”
Some Confederate monuments and symbols have been removed from public spaces across the county, state, and nation following the racially motivated shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.
SOCV argues that the Civil War was not fought over slavery, but rather over states’ rights. The organization maintains that Confederate history is U.S. history and that Confederate veterans should have their heritage remembered like those of other U.S. servicemen.
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Several veterans from the U.S. Army and Navy spoke in favor of removing the statue from the park. Former City Councilman and University of Texas at San Antonio professor Mario Salas called the monument “racist, disgusting, and vile” and scoffed at the notion that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.
“This stands as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and slavery,” Salas told the Rivard Report. “Nobody has to take my word for it. All you gotta do is Google the articles of secession. For all 13 of the Southern states, everyone of them says they’re leaving the Union to further the aims of the institution of slavery.”
Salas stood alongside Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) and County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) in 2015 when they called for the removal of the monument. No Council member or county commissioner attended Tuesday’s protest, nor did Nirenberg attend. Nirenberg has not yet indicated that the statue’s future will be a topic of discussion in Council chambers.
Yet there was belief among the demonstrators that San Antonio’s new mayor would ultimately address the issue that former Mayor Ivy Taylor did not. Lowe said he was hopeful that Nirenberg and the new City Council, considered by many to be more progressive than the last, will ultimately remove the statue from public space.
“As a veteran, I am going to fight as a freedom fighter for those who went before me, because that’s what’s important,” Lowe said. “Freedom is important.”