Speaker of the House Joe Straus calls for removal of ‘inaccurate’ Confederate plaque from Capitol

Chase Karacostas

On Tuesday morning, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus called for the removal of a “blatantly inaccurate” Confederate plaque located next to the Texas Capitol rotunda on Tuesday morning.

In a letter to the State Preservation Board, SPB, Straus said the plaque described an incorrect depiction of the Civil War, and Texans are “not well-served” by inaccurate information about history. The plaque says the Civil War was neither an act of rebellion nor primarily about slavery. 

“We have an obligation to all the people we serve to ensure that our history is described correctly, especially when it comes to a subject as painful as slavery,” Straus said in the letter.

Gov. Greg Abbott, the chairman of the SPB and one of the letter’s recipients, could not be reached for comment at press time.

The plaque sparked controversy last month when Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, asked for its immediate removal from the wall near his office in the Capitol in his own letter to the SPB. 

“Those are both counterfactual statements, and correcting them is important to people who respect and love the truth,” Johnson said. “We want people to feel like our Capitol is a place where everyone is welcome … (so) we’re not going to let lies that overt go over unchallenged.”

As for the plaque’s new home, Johnson said he is fine with anywhere that is not the wall of the Capitol.

“It has no business in the Capitol,” Johnson said. “It’s pretty worthless as a piece of historical fact, and that’s what the Capitol should have in it: historical fact.”

Johnson is also demanding the removal of all remaining Confederate statues in and around the Capitol. He said the Confederacy exemplified treason and white supremacy and should not be honored with placements around the “greatest shrine” to Texas’ values, i.e. the Capitol building.

SPB executive director Rod Welsh responded to Johnson’s letter a few days later and said the SPB had initiated a review of both the plaque and the remaining Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds. The letter did not include when Johnson would meet with the SPB to discuss the monuments nor a date when the plaque near his office would be removed.

For now, the SPB has to figure out whether or not the legislature’s approval is required to take down the plaque. If not, Johnson said it is likely that the plaque could be taken down within a few weeks. However, if the legislature has to vote on the removal, then the issue could end up waiting until 2019.   

The plaque was placed in the Capitol in 1959 by the Children of the Confederacy, an organization that operates under the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC was unable to be reached for comment prior to publication.

Student body president Alejandrina Guzman, who assisted in orchestrating the removal of four Confederate statues from the South Mall shortly before classes started, said she supports Straus’ call to remove Confederate monuments from the Capitol.

“Knowing that (Straus) is saying this in front of everybody — that’s bold,” Guzman said. “I’m dumbfounded (at) the fact that it’s been there (for decades) and it’s wrong … It should not be celebrated. It shouldn’t be honored either.”