Members of San Antonio's Black Lives Matter community spent their Independence Day asking the city to remove the granite Confederate soldier looming over Travis Park. The anonymous soldier tops a memorial for fellow members of the confederacy that died during the Civil War. It wasn't the first time the public has asked the city to topple the statue in Travis Park (the former grounds of a confederate campsite) — but activists believe that, thanks to a reshuffling in city hall, it might be the last.
Holding banners and flags in the stifling midday heat, the crowd of about 50 activists listened to speakers denounce the monument's racist legacy and demand Mayor Ron Nirenberg do the same.
East Side activist Walter Perry told the crowd, “You don’t see any statues of Hitler. People would be sensitive to that.” Mike Lowe, a local BLM activist who’s led marches against police brutality in the city, called the monument “part of a heritage built on hate and the subjugation of black people.”
In 2015, shortly after South Carolina stripped their statehouse of the confederate flag, San Antonio politicians and activists joined together to denounce the Travis Park statue, asking for its removal.
This movement, however, was quickly trampled by then-mayor Ivy Taylor, who said that removing the memorial would somehow "make it easier for many to ignore the historic struggles of Blacks and other minorities in this country."
"It is...offensive to pretend that Texas was never a slave state or that racism has played no role in our history for the past 150 years," Taylor said
in a statement at the time. Instead, she tasked the city manager's office with taking inventory of every public memorial related to the confederacy, for no concrete purpose.
But with New Orleans' recent decision to take down its confederate memorials — and the election of Mayor Nirenberg — activists are hopeful that their call for removal will finally be answered.
“Now that the mayor (Ivy Taylor) is gone, the whole paradigm has changed. I think they’ll be much more open to this," said Mario Salas, a former city council member and longtime local activist, at Tuesday's protest.
Johnathan-David Jones, a BLM member who organized the event, agreed that the current administration plays a major role in the movement's success.
"If the community wants change, but the city's not on board, we can't get much done," Jones said. "But we now have the most progressive city council in history. I can't see any reason that there will be any hesitation."
Jones is already working with Councilmen Roberto Treviño and William "Cruz" Shaw to draft a formal council request to remove (and possibly relocate) the Travis Park monument. A spokesman from Treviño's office didn't share the request's specifics, but said the two are taking the council's summer recess to "thoughtfully" hash out the details. And, according to a spokesperson in the mayor's office, their rough proposal has already received Nirenberg's support.
"Confederate symbolism stood for the contradictory belief that there could simultaneously be freedom for some and bondage for others," wrote Shaw in a statement to the Current. "
This is San Antonio’s chance to desegregate our cultural symbols and be on the right side of history."
Like with the removal of any confederate memorial across the country, the city's expecting strong opposition to their request. Some of those opponents were present at Tuesday's event, like husband and wife Scott Davis and Diane McLeod Davis.
The couple, dressed in authentic Confederate getup, told the Current
that “destroying this monument would pretty much be the same thing as destroying a grave stone.” While protesters behind him called the monument a celebration of slave-owners, Davis argued that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. When asked whether he could see why protesters found the monument offensive, his curt response: “Read a book.”