HOUSTON (CN) — It’s been a busy week for statues in Houston. One day after a vandal painted a statue of Christopher Columbus red, Mayor Sylvester Turner said two Confederate statues will be moved, one to an African American museum.
Protests over the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day at the hands of Minneapolis police have prompted a national soul-searching about racism and brought renewed calls across the South for removing Confederate monuments.
Turner announced Thursday that two Confederate statues will be taken down by June 19, an African American holiday marking the day in June 1865 slaves in Galveston learned that President Abraham Lincoln had freed all slaves two years earlier with his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Turner, vice president of the African American Mayors Association, said the Spirit of the Confederacy, a bronze winged angel commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected in 1908 in a park near City Hall, will be moved to the Houston Museum of African American Culture.
He also said a marble statue of Confederate Major William “Dick” Dowling, commissioned by the city in 1905 and placed in a park near the Houston Zoo, will be moved to the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site in Port Arthur, pending approval by the Texas Historical Commission, the Houston Chronicle reported.
But Port Arthur’s black Mayor Thurman Bartie said Turner’s announcement came as a surprise to him. He told the Chronicle he would try to stop the statue from going up in his city, in far southeast Texas, 20 miles southeast of Beaumont.
Turner’s call to move the monuments, which he made without approval from the City Council, comes after a vandal early Wednesday smeared red paint on the face and hands of a statue of Christopher Columbus in a city park and left a sign on it stating, “Rip the head from your oppressor.”
Charles Oliver, commander of the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the Spirit of Confederacy should be returned to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
“The city should have no right to put it in one of their museums. It is does not belong to them. The [United Daughters of the Confederacy] owns it and should get it back if the city wants it moved. They can find a place of honor to put it in or do with it whatever they please,” he said in an email.
Texas Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn does not agree with moving Confederate statues, nor the call for renaming of 10 military bases named after Confederate generals, an idea President Donald Trump also rejected this week.
“I don’t think we can go back and erase our history by removing statues. What happens next? Then somebody says you can’t teach about the Civil War or slavery in your textbooks,” Cornyn said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.
But several other Republican senators and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have said they agree the bases should be renamed or are receptive to the idea.
The Senate Armed Services Committee voted Wednesday to place a requirement to rename the bases into a defense spending bill, the New York Times reported.
The push to remove Confederate statues picked up steam after a protest by white supremacists over the proposed removal a statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent and a woman was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd.
Floyd’s death has poured gasoline on the anti-Confederate movement.
The Confederacy was made up of seven states, including Texas, that seceded from the Union and fought the Civil War against the Union Army from 1861 to 1865.
Supporters of the Confederacy today say they fly the Confederate flag out of respect for their ancestors who fought in the war, but African Americans see the flag as a painful symbol of a faction of the United States that went to war to preserve the institution of slavery.
Protesters toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday, and spray painted other Confederate statues along a central street in the city with graffiti.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, ordered the removal of a statue of Lee on state property in Richmond last week. But a state judge on Monday issued an injunction blocking the state from removing it for 10 days pending further hearings.
A statue of Columbus in Boston was moved to storage after someone beheaded it early Wednesday night.
Columbus, an Italian whose expeditions to the West Indies were sponsored by the Spanish monarchy, is vilified by Native Americans and others for enslaving native inhabitants of the island of Hispaniola, and other atrocities against the natives, after his expedition landed in what is now Haiti in 1492.