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One year after the Confederate monument in Travis Park was removed, a decision about its destiny remains in the early stages.
Two lawsuits over the statue’s removal are pending, according to City spokeswoman Thea Setterbo. City officials have declined to provide specifics about where the statue is currently being stored.
“We are currently in litigation in lawsuits filed by two separate groups challenging the City’s ownership of the memorial,” Setterbo said. “All components of the memorial have been stored in the secure location until the lawsuits are resolved.”
The two groups are the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederacy.
The monument featured an unnamed Confederate soldier standing atop of a square pillar. The 40-foot tall monument also bore the inscription “Lest We Forget Our Confederate Dead.” City Council voted 10-1 to take the monument down and put it into temporary storage after hours of citizen testimony on Aug. 31. At 1 a.m. the following day, workers wearing masks to cover their faces loaded the statue onto a truck with its company logo obscured.
Who owns the statue?
The San Antonio branch of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Albert Johnston Sidney chapter, originally sued the City last year after it took the statue down. In its lawsuit, the organization claims the City violated its members’ right to due process when it removed the statue without consulting the Daughters. The Daughters also assert the statue’s removal violates their First Amendment right to free speech.
The Daughters also sued the City over ownership of a time capsule embedded in the monument’s cornerstone. A week ago, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ordered the Daughters and the City to find an expert archivist to examine and preserve the contents of the time capsule, which the Daughters of the Confederacy maintain have significant historical and monetary value. The time capsule is being stored in the City’s climate-controlled archival room.
Chapter president Robin Terrazas said the Daughters consider the monument their property since they funded it and erected it in 1900. The year before, Terrazas said, the City Council of San Antonio granted them the use of Travis Park through an official city ordinance.
“We are still maintaining it belongs in Travis Park because we were given the ordinance in 1899,” Terrazas said. “It was never revoked, that remains the rightful place for it.”
No time limit was established in the 1899 ordinance, so the Daughters should be able to continue using Travis Park to display the statue, said Thomas Crane, the attorney representing the local Daughters chapter.
“We interpret what the City did as giving [the Daughters] an easement or a license,” Crane said.
Crane said the discovery process of the lawsuit – when lawyers gather evidence – will not be over until late September. October is the earliest a trial date could be set, he said.
The meaning of Confederate monuments
William Dupont, who teaches historic preservation at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said he has used this Confederate monument as a teaching lesson for his graduate students.
“It highlights the issues of what we call value-led management of cultural resources,” Dupont said. “It’s a design approach, to consider and have an open discussion about what are we prioritizing and which values are most important to contemporary society.”
St. Mary’s University history professor Teresa Van Hoy acknowledged the monument commemorates many things but stressed that the meanings ascribed to it cannot be cherry-picked. It was erected less than 40 years after the Civil War, so people still had personal ties to the Confederacy, she said. A daughter may see the statue as a remembrance of a father lost in the war.
“Her sorrow and her pain, and the love for the South and the cause her daddy died for — nobody can deny her that,” Van Hoy said. “That is real and beautiful, a daughter’s love for her father.
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“For other people, [the statue] means other things. The Confederacy explicitly endorsed slavery. For other people, that statue there is somebody who fought to keep them and their ancestors enslaved. That’s also real, and that can’t be denied, either.”
Much of historic preservation is contentious, Dupont said. He gave the example of buildings up for demolition. There are always two camps, he said – someone advocating to save it, and someone saying it’s better for the public good for the building to be removed.
“It’s complicated, because it’s a continual process of considering what’s important to society,” Dupont said. “Sometimes, things that are important aren’t always good or bad, they’re just history. They’re lessons we need to understand, and they’re in the tangible built environment.”
Terrazas said she sees the statue as a history lesson for San Antonio.
“The point of it going up in the first place was to honor and remember Confederate soldiers who lost their lives,” Terrazas said. “It’s not, as some people say, there to promote racism. That was never part of it. It is there to remind us of things we don’t want to see happen again as well.”
Van Hoy disagreed. The Confederacy, the cause that this statue commemorates, saw slaves as subhuman, she said.
“In the end, my basic view is if anything ever denied anybody’s humanity, it doesn’t deserve to represent Texas,” she said. “And the Confederacy, in its very constitution, it denied the humanity of enslaved peoples. I just don’t see how Texans can think that that’s how they want to be represented on public land.”