The Dallas City Council picked its battles Wednesday, voting to delay a decision on whether to remove the downtown Confederate War Memorial.
Council member Tennell Atkins made the motion to defer the item until City Manager T.C. Broadnax could review all possible options for the statues and give the council more information. The vote passed 9-6.
The council members against the deferral said not advancing in this case was tantamount to a retreat. But Atkins said he wanted the city to be able to come together to make “a hard decision.”
“This is a very, very important decision to the city of Dallas,” he said. “Everyone in America is watching the city of Dallas and saying, ‘Are we doing the right thing?'”
The council also voted Wednesday not to sell the statue of Robert E. Lee that was removed last year from what is now Oak Lawn Park. But the 10-5 vote, which was taken without discussion, did not specify what the council will do with the Alexander Phimister Proctor sculpture.
The council did take some action. They directed the city manager to appoint a “working group” to add historical context to Confederate symbols at Fair Park and commemorate the Hall of Negro Life. The council also supported leaving alone streets named after Confederate officials and to construct a memorial of the 1910 mob lynching of Allen Brooks near Main and Akard streets downtown.
Those provisions received only brief discussions. Council member Philip Kingston criticized the street-name decision, and a few public speakers took issue with the Brooks memorial. But they passed with relative ease.
The speakers and the council were primarily focused on the statues from Pioneer Park Cemetery outside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. A group called This is Texas Freedom Force showed up with many of the public speakers. And twenty of the total 51 registered speakers did not live in Dallas or did not provide an address at all.
The speakers ultimately had only a minute each to speak. Activist John Fullinwider said the statues remaining up would leave the city “spellbound by white supremacy and the ghosts of the past.”
Others in favor of keeping the statues in place accused the council of trying to erase history, acting racist, yielding to anarchists and also acting as Orwellian authoritarians controlling thought. One woman, Rhonda Tarr, called the mayor and Caraway “snakes in the grass.”
The discussion and arguments hewed closely to those heard in past meetings on the issue, as well as hundreds of phone calls, emails and letters sent to council members. But the council decided to follow the lead of Atkins, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway and council member Casey Thomas, who are all black, and fight again another day. Several agreed that the council could use more information first. Rickey Callahan made clear that he wants the statues to stay and would prefer if the Lee statue returned to Oak Lawn Park.
North Dallas council member Lee Kleinman blasted the statues and pointed out the city doesn’t memorialize other wars or war heroes — even Denison native Dwight Eisenhower. But while he hoped to move forward quickly, he said he ultimately couldn’t vote against his three black colleagues’ wishes.
“I won’t be the white council member to tell the black leadership around this council what to do,” Kleinman said.
Kevin Felder, the fourth black council member, took exception to Kleinman’s comment because he wanted the statues removed. Felder, who has regularly butted heads with Caraway, said the deferral was part of “a shadow plan,” the details of which he didn’t specify.
Felder said he doesn’t necessarily want the statues destroyed and told the dozens of speakers who opposed the removal that he wasn’t trying to destroy their history as they claimed.
“But I am for acknowledging the pain and hurt and betrayal that happened in this country,” he said.
Kingston and council member Scott Griggs led the call for moving forward.
Griggs questioned whether further delays would follow the one Wednesday and called on his colleagues to take a moral stand.
“It is not in the interest of justice or in the interest of this city to drag this issue on,” Griggs said.
Kingston agreed with Atkins that “the world is watching” the council.
“If it sees inaction and it sees a lack of resolve, that will be the legacy of the Dallas City Council,” he said.
HOW THEY VOTED
Deferral on Confederate War Memorial
Mayor Mike Rawlings
Jennifer Staubach Gates
Vote to deny directing the sale of Lee Statue
Mayor Mike Rawlings
Jennifer Staubach Gates