Last February, the Dallas City Council voted to pull down the Confederate War Memorial, a massive obelisk in Pioneer Park Cemetery that is surrounded by statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his rebel generals. The monument has been shrouded in a black tarp ever since, as the city negotiates with a contractor who will remove the monument. But for now, the memorial will remain thanks to an emergency stay filed in the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals.
The legal challenge to the city’s efforts to rid Dallas’ landscape of its prominent totems to the Confederacy has been rumbling in the background of the public debate over the meaning, significance, and fate of the monuments. Warren Johnson, who recently lost a bid for the District 14 council seat, launched an effort to keep Dallas from removing its Confederate monuments after the statue of General Robert E. Lee in Lee Park was removed in September 2017. Johnson’s group–Return Lee Park–argues that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Antiquities Act in its removal of the statue.
Other legal efforts to block the removal of the monuments have been dismissed, but Johnson’s case is winding its way through the appeals process. Arlington attorney Warren Norred filed an emergency stay on demolishing the memorial while the appeal process plays out, and on Monday Justice Bill Whitehill issued an order that granted the motion.
So where does that leave us?
The Johnson challenge is the last legal obstacle to the removal of the memorial. Dallas has until July 15 to file a response to the judge’s order. The council, the Landmark Commission, and the City Plan Commission have all concluded that the memorial doesn’t fit in Pioneer Cemetery and shouldn’t be protected by the historic designation of the area. Their votes came before the Texas Legislature passed a new law that makes it harder for cities to take down Confederate monuments.
At the center of the challenge is a question of whether or not the Confederate monument is historical or just old. Dallas’ Confederate War Memorial is certainly old–it was erected in 1897 amidst much civic fanfare. But it wasn’t moved to the cemetery until the 1920s. And its historical value lies primarily in its role as a piece of propaganda connected to the promulgation of a white supremacist view of Southern culture associated with the so-called Lost Cause Movement. That is a history, the city has concluded multiple times, that is not worth preserving.
The city has the $500,000 it will cost to take it down. The money was raised by auctioning off Alexander Phimister Proctor’s sculpture Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Soldier (1935), which sold to an Addison law firm for $1.4 million; whether the firm bought it on behalf of its partners or a client is unknown. But for now, that process must wait on the legal system to work through the details of the challenge. The last time this happened the city stalled its removal process for 14 days while it waited for a previous case to be dismissed. It is likely this challenge will meet a similar end.