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Bexar County Removes Confederate Markers

David Martin Davies
William Manuel approaches the podium to defend the Confederate flag and the Confederacy in Bexar County, as Bexar County Commissioners Court meets on Tuesday, July 21, 2015, to decide on the future of the county's Confederate markers.

As the nation is reexamining how to best remember the Confederacy and find more appropriate locations for its monuments and icons, the Bexar County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to remove two Confederate markers from county property.

Credit David Martin Davies

In front of the Bexar County Courthouse and in the shadow of the San Fernando Cathedral’s bell tower was where a 1936 historic marker was seated. It read “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway – Dedicated to the soldiers of the Confederacy.”

County commissioners voted unanimously to remove the plaque and overnight county workers did just that.

Also now gone is another county marker that commemorated the Confederacy. It was on the opposite side of the courthouse at the old Federal Reserve building. It showed the Confederate battle flag and noted this was the location of the Vance House where Robert E. Lee was often an honored guest.

Credit David Martin Davies
Close up of courthouse Confederate marker that is now removed.

“We are simply not going to glorify a symbol which to many people – not all – but to many is a symbol of fear and a symbol of hate,” County Judge Nelson Wolff said.

The decision to remove the markers follows a national movement to eliminate the symbols of the Confederacy from the public square, which is motivated by the Charleston church massacre that left nine people dead.

Credit David Martin Davies
Retired school teacher Becky Brenner tells commissioners she wants the Confederate markers removed.

But before commissions cast their votes they heard impassioned testimony from citizens in favor and against the markers and the Confederacy.

“The Civil War needs to be over now,” said retired teacher Becky Brenner. She told the commissioners she wanted those two symbols of hate gone. And she wants people to realize the Confederacy is not worthy of modern day honors and tributes.

"I can tell you that if they had won, they would take all of my African American students out and assassinate them," she said, her voice breaking. "They would execute them, because that's what slavery did. People were not allowed to read and write."

Credit David Martin Davies
William Manuel wave the Confederate battle flag in support of the Confederate markers.

San Antonio State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, A Democrat, also spoke against the markers.

“There’s nothing more dis-inviting than to see a symbol of the Confederacy that is synonymous to slavery,” he said.

Martinez Fischer said the removal of these symbols shouldn’t be limited to Bexar County but this re-examination should also happen at the state capitol.

“What you do today is very symbolic and emblematic of the work that we should be doing in Austin.”

Defenders of the markers and of the Confederacy also had their say.

“I’m going to read y'all some history,” said William Manuel.

Wearing the cap of a Confederate rebel and vigorously waving the Confederate battle flag, Manuel said the markers have historic value and that the Confederacy did not fight to protect slavery.

Credit David Martin Davies
Two supporters of the Confederate markers in the Bexar County Commissioners' Court.

“Lincoln waged war on the South. The South fought the war to repel northern aggression. Not a darn thing about slavery,” he told the commissioners.

John McCammon, president of the Confederate Cemetery Association of San Antonio told commissioners that they were stepping onto a slippery slope which is "scarier that the McCarthy era."

“The Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror, Joseph Stalin’s cleansing, Nazi Germany’s removal of statues and burning of books; all started with cleanings of history in their countries,” he said.

Credit David Martin Davies
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert stands next to a poster of the 1861 Texas Causes of Secession while calling for the removal of the Confederate Memorial in Travis Park

After three hours of differing historic views of the Civil War and its causes, Commissioner Tommy Calvert said it was time to turn to the source document of Texas secession.

Calvert read the entire 1861 Texas Causes of Secession which made it clear that Texas joined the confederacy over slavery.

“Based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to the Southern states and their beneficent and patricidal system of African slavery proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men,” he said.

The county’s decision to remove the two plaques does not mean all symbols of the Confederacy will be banished from the courthouse.

Wolff said plans are in the works for display in front of the county seat with flags of the nine governments that have ruled Bexar. And the Confederacy’s banner will have its place there.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi