In the heart of one of San Antonio’s oldest parks is a towering Confederate Monument erected thirty 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 the people across the United States question the meaning of confederate landmarks. At least two council people would like to see the monument moved to a museum and community support may be growing.
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.
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“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 with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
He adds 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 monument was erected in 1899 by the Daughters of the Confederacy. Its construction was met with some resistance. City records from the Office of Historic Preservation say an 1898 article by the San Antonio Daily Light stated the monument “would likely be the scoff of future generations.”
118 years later people are calling confederate monuments a symbol of racism and a divided country
Mike Lowe is the organizer of SATX4. It’s a group that bills itself as exposing 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. Lowe says it does not belong in a public park.
“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 added.
The ire towards the landmark has gained the attention of at least two San Antonio council members. District one Councilman Roberto Trevino 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.
Trevino 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 with our city amenities like parks,” the councilman added.
Trevino has asked the city’s department of culture and creative and Office of Historic Preservation to weigh on what to do. He says the monument is a piece of military history and he’s asked the city’s Department of Military Affairs to help direct the conversation.
“The office of military affairs has been working on some great things like, making sure to document and really unify our military monuments throughout the city,” Trevino says.
Shaw and Trevino still need three other council members to formally sign on to what’s called a council consideration request which is still being drafted. Besides a museum, another option being considered is adding historical markers for 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. Consideration never came to council. Newly elected Mayor Ron Nirenberg seems to be more on board.
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 says he believes moving the monument will be met with much opposition, especially from veterans.
“To start removing history is a dangerous thing and I really believe we need to look at our history and include all of it,” he adds.
Mike Lowe says you can’t sanitize evil. “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 adds.
When the city council returns in August, it’s expected to have a full docket with the requests of new members. Trevino and Shaw are confident they have the support of other council members to begin the discussion.
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.