Appeals court upholds removal of Confederate plaques

Since-repealed provision dedicated state Supreme Court Building to Confederate veterans when it was built.

By Mike Ward
Published: Friday, March 26, 2010

An Austin appellate court on Friday upheld the removal a decade ago of two politically charged plaques at the state Supreme Court building bearing the Confederate battle flag and seal.

The black and gold plaques, installed in the 1960s under a since-repealed provision of law that dedicated the building to Confederate veterans, were removed in 2000 after complaints by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among others.

Two new plaques replaced them: One notes that the state courts "are entrusted with providing equal justice under the law to all persons regardless of race, creed or color." The other notes that the building, when built, was "designated as a memorial to the Texans who served the Confederacy."

Members of the Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had filed a lawsuit seeking to return the original plaques to the building. An Austin court sided with state officials, who insisted they had the right to remove and replace the original plaques.

In its 11-page decision, the appellate court agreed — but said officials should have received approval from the Texas Historical Commission before they changed out the plaques, because the plaques could be considered a historical marker. Under state law, changes to markers must be approved.

The court also ruled that the state had the right to remove the plaques, noting that the statutory provisions dedicating the building long ago had been repealed.

The case now heads back to the trial court for further action.

Attorneys for the Sons of Confederate Veterans could not be reached for comment Friday.

Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the ruling is under review.

Mark Wolfe, the historical commission’s executive director, said the agency was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.

Texas voters amended the Texas Constitution in 1954 to permit funds in a pension for Confederate veterans to be used to construct a new courts building near the Capitol.

The cornerstone of the new Supreme Court building was laid three years later, containing copies of the constitutional amendment and statutes designating the building as a memorial to Confederate veterans, a roster of the officers of the United Daughters of the Confederacy , a Confederate flag and Confederate money.

The plaques, installed several years later, featured a dedication of the building to "Texans who served in the Confederacy" on one and a quote from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the other.

In 1978, voters repealed the constitutional provision concerning the dedication of the building. A year later, the statutes were wiped off the books, as well.

Fast forward to 2000, when a controversy boiled in South Carolina over the Confederate battle flag being flown at its Capitol. The NAACP called for the removal of the Texas plaques, with its officials insisting the walls of the state’s highest court were no place for "hate symbols" from the slavery days of the Old South.

Confederate groups insisted they should be retained, noting they highlighted a part of the state’s history.

After the state replaced them over a weekend, the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued to have them restored.

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