“If you are going to be enshrined in a public space, I think it’s reasonable to ask about your overall contribution to the body politic.” — Eric Johnson *03
Brian Maschino

Efforts that began last summer to remove Civil War statues in Charlottesville, Va., have sparked similar efforts around the country. State Rep. Eric Johnson *03 has asked the Texas State Preservation Board to remove a plaque outside his office in Austin honoring the “heroic deeds” of Confederate soldiers, and he plans to introduce a resolution to remove all Confederate iconography in the state capitol and its surrounding grounds. Johnson, whose district encompasses downtown Dallas, spoke with PAW about the issue.

What motivated your efforts?

There are at least a dozen Confederate statues and flags in and around the state capitol. 

Specifically, there is a plaque right outside my office titled “Children of the Confederacy Creed.” It was put up in 1959, nearly a century after the Civil War, by a group called the Children of the Confederacy. The first paragraph says the plaque is meant to “love and honor the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army and upheld its flag through four years of war.” 

It’s the second paragraph of the plaque that really shows why it needs to go. It says we should pledge ourselves “to study and teach the truths of history,” specifically that “the war between the states was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.” That is demonstrably untrue. The Texas ordinance of secession flat out says that they left over slavery. It’s a lie, and it needs to come down for that reason. I don’t think we’re trying to erase history; we’re trying to correct it. 

You made your request last August. What has happened to it?

What has happened is this political season has happened. I met with Gov.[Greg] Abbott about this last fall and he agreed that the plaque contains historical inaccuracies, but he hasn’t said anything publicly since then. He is up for re-election, and this is not a topic that plays well with his base. But I’m not letting it go.

Does removing the statues put us on a slippery slope? Where does it end?

If you’re going to be enshrined in a public space, I think it’s reasonable to ask about your overall contribution to the body politic. Washington and Jefferson held slaves, but they also helped found the nation. On balance, their contributions were far greater than their sins. 

But Confederate soldiers and leaders — fighting to destroy the Union was their contribution to history. We wouldn’t even know who those guys were if they hadn’t taken up arms against the United States to defend white supremacy and slavery. That is not a value that should be honored in a public space anywhere.

Interview conducted and condensed by M.F.B.