AUSTIN, Texas - For years, several Texas lawmakers have worked to eliminate "Confederate Heroes Day."
The state holiday was formed in 1973 when lawmakers combined holidays honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. They chose Lee’s birthday, January 19, the day after Martin Luther King Day.
"There is no reason to celebrate the confederacy at all," said Rep. Jarvis Johnson. The Houston Democrat says his great-great-grandfather fought for the confederacy because he was a white slave owner who raped his great-great-grandmother.
Rep. Jarvis has previously filed legislation to end the holiday without success. But, given the events of 2020 and 2021, especially the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, he believes this year will be different. He has hope for his bill, HB 36.
"We only have to take a look at what happened at the United States Capitol recently to see what it means to have an insurrection just like we had 160 years ago," said Rep. Donna Howard. The state representative from Austin has also filed similar legislation in the past.
Austinite Jacob Hale has been calling to eradicate the holiday since he was just 13-years-old. Tuesday, as a 19-year-old college student he continued his fight, speaking at Jarvis’ press conference.
"The confederates were not heroes, they far surpassed the constitutional definition of treason. They killed hundreds of thousands of their fellow Americans. Their motivation in their own words was to preserve the servitude of the African race; these traitors are in fact some of the greatest villains in American history." he said.
State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, an Army veteran, says he does not celebrate the holiday, but he also will not support this legislation to eliminate it. "When you are a soldier when you have taken that oath, your oath is at that time to the constitution and obviously honoring that oath," he explained.
On Confederate Heroes Day, State Rep. Rafael Anchía filed HB 1186 which would remove confederate monuments, statues, and memorials from Texas State Capitol grounds. "The Texas Capitol is a symbol of solidarity, as lawmakers from various backgrounds and perspectives come together to create change for our communities. The presence of Confederate memorials on the Capitol grounds undermines the unifying work that lawmakers strive to undertake," he said.
The legislation would direct the State Preservation Board to remove the following items from public display: "the portrait of Albert Sidney Johnson located in the senate chamber, the canons located on the south end of the Capitol, the Confederate Soldiers' Monument located on the south grounds, the portrait of Richard William "Dick:" Dowling located in the House chamber, Hood's Texas Brigade Monument located on the east grounds, the portrait of Jefferson Davis located in the senate chamber, and Terry's Texas Rangers Monument located on the south grounds."
The legislation also calls to rename the John H. Reagan building to the Jackson-Weber State Office Building. The name honors abolitionists Nathaniel Jackson and John Ferdinand Webber. They helped slaves escape from Texas to Mexico via the "Underground Railroad to Mexico".
White, says he does not support the legislation. Explaining that "every monument on the state grounds you could come up with some reason why it has an odious nature." Still, he says he could be interested in a broader piece of legislation that sets guidelines for naming things like artwork, landmarks, monuments, buildings, and roadways. "That may be a very good discussion for the legislature to have. What are the parameters to have a building named after you or a monument on the grounds? But, let's do everybody, okay, let's just not do the maybe the hot issue of the day." he said.