Plaintiff Discusses Suing City Over Confederate Monument Removal
OCTOBER 28, 2017
Robin Terrazas remembers briefly speaking with Mayor Ron Nirenberg the night before City Council voted 10-1 to remove the 118-year-old Confederate Monument from Travis Park.
It was the only interaction that Terrazas – president of the Albert Sidney Johnston chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy – had with the mayor after repeated attempts to start a dialogue on the future of the group’s property: the monument.
“I said let’s work together on this,” Terrazas said. “He looked me in the eye, he shook my hand, and he said ‘yes, we will include you.’ And he never contacted me. No one from the City ever did.”
Nirenberg declined to comment on her claim because of pending litigation, a spokesperson said.
Now the chapter is suing the City of San Antonio and 10 of its City Council members in federal court for its decision to remove the monument from Travis Park in September. The group argues that its rights under the Fifth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution were violated when the City removed the statue overnight, failing to give them due process.
The statue was originally erected in 1899 by the Barnard E. Bee chapter of the Confederacy group for $3,000. The suit claims that a City ordinance dating back to March 27, 1899 gave the chapter perpetuity over the land to be used for their monument. In 1972, the Barnard E. Bee chapter closed due to declining membership, and transferred their property and interests to the Albert Sidney Johnston chapter.
“State and local governments cannot take property, life, and liberty from citizens without due process,” said Thomas Crane, the attorney representing the chapter in Albert Sidney Johnston Chapter v. Nirenberg. “There has to be some process to do that, not just somebody’s arbitrary decision.”
The suit claims that Nirenberg “abbreviated the normal process” of bringing a Council Consideration Request to a vote when he superseded a governance committee review and put the motion directly to a Council vote on Aug. 31. Bypassing the governance committee also meant that the Historic Design and Review Commission did not review the request.
Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), who cast the sole vote against removing the monument, is not named as a defendant in the suit. Perry said at the time that he wanted to see “a more robust community dialogue.”
City officials and Council members declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Terrazas said the council did not include her group in community discussions as promised when it began considering the monument’s removal in July. Since the monument’s removal, the chapter has not been told where their monument is being stored or information about its condition.
The chapter also is seeking compensation for the alleged violation of due process rights.
“We would like to see the monument put back up,” Terrazas said. “We want it put up at the City’s expense, and we want it to be put in a place that we can agree on with the City. We also would like our time capsule contents returned.”
According to an article published on June 4, 1899 in the San Antonio Sunday Light, a time capsule was buried on the site when the monument foundation was laid. The report states that a roster of the Barnard E. Bee chapter was placed inside along with several Confederate bills and coins; a Confederate flag bearing the name of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy; pressed flowers from the coffin of Winnie Davis, the daughter of Jefferson Davis; some daily newspapers; and an Old Testament Bible used by an imprisoned Southerner. Terrazas said the City has not divulged any information about the capsule’s whereabouts.
“We were robbed of the opportunity for a ceremonial opening of the time capsule,” Terrazas said.
The group seeks reimbursement along with the return of the monument. The suit says the group is seeking more than $75,000 for compensation of actual, compensatory, and punitive damages.
Debate over the monument began only months after Nirenberg won the mayoral race. Some memorials dedicated to the Confederacy, and to the soldiers that fought for it, were removed across the county following the death of nine black church goers in a June 2015 shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. More were removed after protests defending Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent in August 2017.
On Oct. 27, the Texas Tribune reported that Governor Greg Abbott was supportive of a motion to remove a controversial Confederate plaque from the Texas Capitol.
According to records shared with the Rivard Report, there are currently six markers in San Antonio providing information on historic Civil War locations in the city
Terrazas said that the chapter believes the monument that was in Travis Park was not a monument to white supremacy or slavery, but to the common soldier and veteran that fought for their state and country. An inscription on the monument reads “Lest We Forget Our Confederate Dead,” which the suit states are lines taken from a Rudyard Kipling poem.
Crane said that the chapter’s federal lawsuit could last for years to come.
“The Daughters did everything they’re supposed to do to avoid a lawsuit,” Crane said.
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