Another shot fired in Texas African-American monument controversy

Posted Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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sanders It took two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation for the news to officially reach Texas on June 19, 1865. The delay obviously was because the Civil War didn’t end until that April.

It has been 14 years since the state Legislature commissioned a monument to commemorate that event and, although completed in 2005, the sculpture has never been placed on the Capitol grounds. The reason is that the battle surrounding it has lasted a lot longer than the Civil War.

The five-piece monument featuring a lawmaker, preacher, woman and a farmer and his daughter will likely never take its place on the south lawn of the Capitol, a decision applauded by many. The Texas Juneteenth Cultural and Historical Commission, created by the Legislature to oversee the project, was decommissioned two years ago.

The statues stood in a field outside a foundry in Bastrop until recently, when they were moved to a warehouse in Austin. Ironically, the massive Tejano Monument, which was installed at the Capitol last year, was authorized two years after approval of the Juneteenth memorial.

The $1 million Juneteenth project met opposition almost immediately on completion, criticized for being historically inaccurate, non-inspiring and for the fact that the lawmaker figure bore a striking resemblance to state Rep. Al Edwards, the Houston legislator who sponsored the bill to create it.

The “Law Maker” was reworked and replaced at the request of the Juneteenth commission but, The Texas Tribune reported, the replacement was also problematic because the statue is holding a document labeled “House Bill 1016,” Edwards’ 1979 bill making Juneteenth a state holiday. The original “Law Maker” has been placed on city property in Galveston where Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced that “all slaves are free.”

Critics say other inaccurate depictions, although “minor,” show the farmer dressed in bib overalls and the woman in a high-collared dress, clothes they say were not worn in the 1860s.

With Edwards out of office, and the bickering continuing, the Legislature in 2011 repealed the Juneteenth project and authorized an African-American Texans memorial monument to focus on contributions by blacks in Texas rather than celebrate just one specific event.

A non-profit organization, the Texas African American History Memorial Foundation, is in charge of the new project and is responsible for raising most of the $2.5 million needed to complete it. I don’t know how much of the money has been raised, as Austin attorney Bill Jones, who chairs the group, was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

Original plans called for having the new sculpture dedicated by 2014. But wait. This battle is far from over.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, an ardent history buff who co-sponsored the bill for the Juneteenth monument when he was a state senator, fired a shot on June 19 to save the original sculpture.

“This day is about liberty, and that is something every Texan should support,” he said. “Let’s get it done.”

He declared that the “back of a government warehouse is no place for monuments to individual liberty. Let’s reunite these statues and give Texas Emancipation the public recognition it deserves.”

Patterson, an announced candidate for lieutenant governor who is no stranger to controversy, said in an email message that because there have been so many missteps, it will take legislative action to get the statues erected at the Capitol.

“As Ltgov in 2015, I will get it done,” he said.

I tend to agree with Patterson that something needs to be done, but I’m not sure what to do if work is already started on a new sculpture.

At the very least, a home should be found for the original pieces, individually or collectively, at an educational institution, county or municipality as was suggested to Austin-American Statesman writer Ken Herman by John Sneed, executive director of the State Preservation Board.

That makes more sense than keeping them in a government warehouse.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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