Bang! Crash! Thud! Do you hear that? It’s a frenzy of statues, monuments and plaques being toppled and hauled away. Most have something to do with the Confederacy. In San Francisco even Ulysses S. Grant, credited with defeating the South, got torn down (along with Francis Scott Key, for some unknown reason). New York City is removing Teddy Roosevelt from in front of the American Museum of Natural History because Teddy is on a horse, but on one side, walking, is an Indian (or Native American) and on the other is a black man (or African-American). Maybe they could just put Teddy walking beside the other two riding horses. Statues of Christopher Columbus have been toppled and beheaded in Richmond, Va. and Boston. If it weren’t for Columbus, we’d all be back in the old country, where I’d probably be herding sheep in the Scottish Highlands and trying to choke down haggis. Some people have no knowledge of history, or maybe they just like haggis.
Closer to home, the HISD board spent at least $1.2 million to change the names of eight schools named for Confederate leaders, or even privates. As we discussed last week, the Texas Aggies are considering removing the statue of Sul Ross, a Confederate general and A&M president who saved the school. Now the Rice Owls may kick out William Marsh Rice, who donated his fortune to the college for “the white inhabitants of Houston and the state of Texas.” UT has already removed statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and John H. Reagan. (Reagan led that notorious Rebel band of outlaws, the Confederate Post Office.) The Lee, Johnston and Reagan statues will be added to the collection of the Briscoe Center for scholarly study. The statue of James Hogg, governor of Texas (1891-1895), will be considered for re-installation at another campus site.
General Lee’s fate has been mixed. A huge statue of him, accompanied by a soldier, in a Dallas park, was declared “surplus property” by the Dallas City Council. It was sold for $1.4 million and moved to a private golf club in Lajitas, near Big Bend. There is a movement to replace Lee with a monument to Allen Brooks, victim of Big D’s last lynching (1910). Richmond, Va. has another huge statue of Lee, in the grassy center of a large traffic circle on Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential thoroughfare. The Virginia governor wants it moved, but there is lawsuit involved. A new petition calls for Lee’s statue to be replaced by a local musician, Oderus Urungus, leader of Gwar, a heavy metal band.
Only Virginia has more Confederate symbols than Texas. As we noted last week, Texas has about 180 public symbols honoring the Confederacy, 60 of them are monuments or statues. From Abilene to Wharton, Rebel statues, monuments and counties honor the Lost Cause. Tomball has a marker to a Confederate powder mill. Lancaster marks the site of a Confederate arms factory. We honor Henry P. Brewster (Alpine), Joseph D. Sayers (Bastrop) and August C. Buchel (Cuero), whoever they are. But this brings us a new problem. All these toppled statues sat on giant pedestals, as do most statues. For example, the Statue of Liberty is 151 feet high. The base and the pedestal are 154 feet, so the statue is actually shorter that its base. Assuming the pedestals are politically correct, we have all these empty slabs of marble, often in a prominent place surrounded by gardens.
We could break them down and haul off the rubble, but we could put other and safer statues in their place. Why the waste? As noted, Dallas and Richmond are making such plans. Let’s start with William Marsh Rice, whose ashes are in the base of the statue on the Rice campus. We replace him with a statue of Charles F. Jones, Rice’s valet, holding a towel. Jones murdered Rice by placing a towel saturated with chloroform over his face so Jones and Rice’s lawyer could share the old man’s fortune using a forged will. Jones, more than a half-century later, committed suicide. Sul Ross’s statue prominently placed on the A&M campus, should be replaced by Mohee holding a knife. In Ross’s words about a fight he and other Texas Rangers had with Indians: “I got an arrow in my shoulder and was then shot point-blank by a brave. It was Mohee, a Comanche I’d known since we were children together. As I was lying on the ground, Mohee whipped out his scalping knife and was about to scalp me when his chief called him away to kill someone else.” Mohee almost got it right. UT should replace Robert E. Lee with former regent Frank Erwin who wished: “I want a school the football team can be proud of.”
The Alamo is undergoing vast changes, including moving that giant Cenotaph. It should be replaced by a statue of Moses Rose. He was the one defender who left early, later explaining, “I didn’t want to get killed.” No, he is not the Yellow Rose of Texas. Be gone, Dicky Dowling. Make way for the Tomb of the Unknown Oilers Fan. We have already included minorities, but not women. We have several candidates like Ma Ferguson and Molly Ivens. There is a plaque honoring Jane Long, the “Mother of Texas,” who claimed to be the first English-speaking woman to bear a child in Texas, although some doubt that. She was a widow and supposedly had many admirers and suitors. These included Ben Milam, William Travis, Stephen Austin, Sam Houston and Mirabeau Lamar, whose statues will no doubt soon tumble. Lastly we have the San Jacinto Monument, taller than the Washington Monument. In the spirit of today, I suggest we top it with a statue of the man who made the battle possible: Santa Anna on Old Whip, his horse.
Just keep knocking down those statues. We need the pedestals.
Ashby’s pedestal is at email@example.com