Eric Johnson ’94, a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives from District 100, recently met with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, to push for the removal of a Confederate plaque located outside Johnson’s office in the State Capitol.
The plaque, entitled “Children of the Confederacy Creed,” was erected in 1959. The plaque states that “the [civil] war was not a rebellion nor, was its underlying cause to sustain slavery,” which has prompted Rep. Johnson to take action and push for its removal. The full text of the plaque is pictured on page 3.
“Governor Abbott, please take any and all required steps to remove the “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque from inside the Texas Capitol as soon as possible as the plaque’s central claims are patently false,” Johnson wrote in an October letter to Abbott.
The Texas division of the Children of the Confederacy sponsored the plaque’s installation. According to their website, this group seeks “to honor and perpetuate the memory and deeds of high principles of the men and women of the Confederacy.”
“There was a time when the message folks wanted to send who were in charge of our state was one of white supremacy. They also wanted to accomplish the goal of sanitizing the history of the Civil War and turning it into anything but a war about slavery. This plaque is there to do all those things,” Johnson said.
Johnson said his main reasoning for demanding the plaque be removed is its historical inaccuracy, not necessarily the fact that it seeks to honor the Confederate cause. He said this issue should not be a matter of opinion.
“We can’t be in the business of putting things up in the Capitol that we factually know to be false,” he said. “When you get down to the Civil War, you can’t deny the fact that it was fought over slavery.”
Republican Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has backed Johnson in his requests that the controversial plaque be removed. Straus told “The Texas Tribune” that he agrees with Johnson that any symbol in the Capitol must be historically factual.
Johnson said that symbols put on display in the Capitol should not only be historically accurate, but also serve as something all Texans can take pride in and appreciate.
A staffer for Governor Abbott told “The Texas Tribune” that the October 27 meeting with Johnson was “productive”.
“In our meeting, I told the Governor this: the Texas Capitol is not a Chili’s bathroom. What we hang on the walls of the Capitol matters. What we hang says to the people of Texas that these are our shared values, these people or these ideas are worth praising, they’re noteworthy, and they are important,” he said.
Johnson said the events that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer gave him a platform to call for the plaque’s removal and put it on Texas lawmakers’ agenda.
Since the white supremacist rally and subsequent counter-protest that took place in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, Confederate iconography across the country has become the forefront of controversy and heated debate.
In September, the Dallas City Council voted to remove Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue from Robert E. Lee Park in uptown. There are about a dozen Confederate symbols or monuments on Texas Capitol Grounds, according to the State Preservation Board.
“In the wake of Charlottesville, we were given an opportunity in Texas to reevaluate all the confederate monuments or plaques we have on our capitol ground and the one that is perhaps the most egregious just happens to be outside my office,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the actual process for getting a Capitol plaque removed is unclear, thus complicating his efforts to get it removed from the building.
The State Preservation Board is in charge of maintaining the Texas Capitol, yet there is no official procedure in place to follow for the removal of a plaque from Capitol grounds. It is uncertain as to whether this is an issue to be resolved by the legislature, the governor himself, or another body in the Texas government.
Johnson said he believes the governor personally agrees with him in that the plaque should be removed, but expects that the governor will not take a leadership role in the removal process in fear of alienating key members of his political base.
Governor Abbott is running for re-election in the 2018 Texas gubernatorial, and Johnson said the governor most likely sees this as an issue “best dodged” if possible.
“There are people in his base who know that [the plaque] is a lie and they feel like it is a matter of pride,” he said. “The mindset is that they had the juice to get the plaque up in the first place, and no one is going to take it down.”
Johnson said he would consider it a “failure” if the plaque is not removed from capitol grounds.
“If the plaque ultimately doesn’t come down, I will consider it to be a missed opportunity to show the people of Texas that Texas in 2017 is an intelligent, welcoming and diverse state that doesn’t need to cling to fantasies about its history to feel good about itself,” he said.
He doesn’t anticipate backing down until the “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque no longer resides in the Texas State Capitol.
“I will stay on this like white on rice,” Johnson said. “The governor can count on dealing with me as long as he is in office and as long as I’m in office until the plaque comes down one way or another.”
Johnson concluded his letter to the governor ensuing their meeting as follows:
“It is my sincere hope that after reading the text of the ‘Children of the Confederacy Creed’ plaque…you will support the immediate removal of this historically inaccurate plaque from the Texas Capitol,” Johnson wrote. “Your love of and respect for the truth should impel this.”
Photo courtesy of Eric Johnson
Originally published in the December 2017 print issue