Should The Travis Park Confederate Monument Be Relocated?

In the heart of one of San Antonio’s oldest parks is a towering Confederate monument erected 30 years after the Civil War. Most visitors to Travis Park only pay passing attention to it, but in the last two years the 40-foot structure has become the subject of scrutiny as people across the United States question the meaning of Confederate landmarks. At least two city council members would like to see the monument moved to a museum, and community support seems to be growing.

By Joey PalaciosJuly 24, 2017 10:59 am, , , ,

From TPR:

The 147-year-old Travis Park is near the northeastern edge of downtown San Antonio. It’s nestled between two churches and a towering office building. Here, people often do group yoga, play with a giant chess set or check out a book from a city-operated kiosk.

In the center is a vertical monument about two stories high. An inscription says, “Lest we forget our Confederate dead.” At the top is an unnamed Confederate soldier with a finger pointing upward.

“And the reason he’s got his finger pointed in the sky: That’s typical for monuments. …He’s pointing to heaven that he wants to go and be with his fellow soldiers,” says John McCammon, from the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

He adds that the monument is a tribute to unnamed Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

“This is not to a specific individual. This is for people that are dead and their graves aren’t marked. This is a marker for the buried soldiers that we don’t know where they are,” McCammon says.

The Daughters of the Confederacy erected the monument in 1899, albeit with some local resistance. City records from the Office of Historic Preservation show that an 1898 article in the San Antonio Daily Light stated that the monument “would likely be the scoff of future generations.” Over one hundred years later, people are calling Confederate monuments a symbol of racism and of a divided country.

Mike Lowe is the organizer of SATX4, a local activist group that tries to expose systemic racism.

“This memorial – I don’t care if it was Jesus up there – represents a system and way of life that thrived off of oppression,” Lowe says.

There have been several protests in the park against the monument, and Lowe says it does not belong there.

“At the end of the day, this open-space public reminder of what that represents is offensive to my community and my ancestors who lived, seeking to be free — and were punished for that,” Lowe adds.

Two San Antonio City Council members have taken notice of the controversy over the landmark. District One Councilman Roberto Treviño and Cruz Shaw of District Two want to introduce proposals to move it. Shaw says it should be placed in a museum.

“Monuments like that need to be placed in a historical facility — i.e., a museum, maybe a college or university, something that can represent history, so we’re not erasing history, we’re just putting it into a location where that history is put into a proper context,” Shaw says.

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio

The soldier at the top of the monument is unnamed.

Treviño says he wants the city to be welcoming and inclusive.

“Monuments of power can put a strain on certain parts of our community, and we don’t want to be helping or contributing [to that] with our city amenities, like parks,” Treviño says.

Treviño asked the city’s Department of Culture and Creative Development and its Office of Historic Preservation to weigh in on what to do. He says the monument is a piece of military history and he’s asked the city’s Office of Military Affairs to help direct the conversation.

“The Office of Military Affairs has been working on some great things, like making sure that we document and really unify our military monuments throughout the city,” Treviño says.

Shaw and Treviño still need three other council members to formally sign on to what’s called a council consideration request, which is still being drafted. Besides moving it to a museum, the council members are also considering adding historical markers to the monument, to give it context. Or things could remain as they are.

Two years ago, former San Antonio Mayor, Ivy Taylor — the city’s first African-American mayor — was against removing the statue, saying History shouldn’t be destroyed. The city council never considered it during her term. Newly elected Mayor, Ron Nirenberg, is taking a different approach.

Statement from Nirenberg:
Confederate statues and memorials that lack proper historical context glorify slavery and project a misleading impression about slavery and the war against the United States to preserve slavery. While we must acknowledge our history, I welcome a community dialogue on placing such displays in the proper context. I know that several of my council colleagues have expressed an interest in their removal and I stand behind their commitment to exploring the community sentiment.

McCammon, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says he believes the city will face opposition if it moves the monument, especially from veterans.

“[T]o start removing history is a dangerous thing, and I really believe we need to look at our history and include all of it,” he says.

Mike Lowe says you can’t sanitize the evil deeds of the past. “Those who write the history books will tell the story, but this right here is a reminder of everything that the system was designed to reflect, as related to white supremacy. I don’t support that at all,” he says.

When the city council returns in August, it will likely have a full docket with requests for consideration by new council members. Treviño and Shaw say they’re confident they have the support from their colleagues to begin discussing the monument’s fate.

This story originally aired on Texas Public Radio on Monday, July 16th. It re-aired on the Texas Standard and Fronteras on Friday, July 21st.

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio

John McCammon of the Confederate Cemetery Association and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio

Mike Lowe, co-founder of SATX4.