Dallas City Councilman Adam McGough faced a tough crowd Monday night at Hamilton Park United Methodist Church as he answered questions about his vote to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Oak Lawn. Constituents from District 10 – and a few from other districts who attended because their own council members had not hosted meetings on the issue – expressed frustration, saying the September council vote was rushed and did not allow input from citizens.
“This issue has been forced onto us by outside forces wanting to divide us,” said Patti Arvin. “I never knew the difference between black and white. What will it take for the black community to begin to heal? Are we going to have to remove everything?”
McGough began the meeting by introducing Jennifer Scripps, Director of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs, to give a brief history of the statue. The Robert E. Lee statue, dedicated at the Texas Centennial on June 12, 1936, was not erected as a war memorial, but as a tribute to the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” during Dallas’ era of Jim Crow – a time when Ku Klux Klan membership was high.
As Scripps was reading Dallas Mayor George Sargent’s 1936 remarks dedicating the statue to the Lost Cause, attendees began interrupting her.
“We don’t need a history lesson,” said one.
“My great-grandfather had slaves that stayed with him after the war,” shouted another.
“I’ve been to Rome, and they don’t remove their statues,” said a third.
Scripps was permitted to finish her presentation, but audience members pressed McGough for answers about his vote and the timing of the removal. Before the vote, he said, 55-60% of calls and emails to his office were pro-removal. Since then, he said, he’s been deluged with folks upset about the city’s actions, which came after a 13-1 vote by the council.
Lynda Bauer felt strongly that the statue should have remained.
“Black people should be able to look at those statues and say, ‘Look what we’ve accomplished. That didn’t hold us back.’ But this divides everybody. It makes us angry and argumentative, and it shouldn’t.”
Dr. Sheron Patterson, senior pastor at HPUMC, saw things differently.
“Removal of those statues did not divide Dallas. We were already racially divided. I want you all to try to move out of your comfort zone and try to feel what we are feeling. The question was, ‘What will it take for black people to heal?’ The healing comes when America acknowledges and responds to its racist past. Removal of those statues moves us one step closer to dialog and an authentic community.”
Several attendees pressed McGough for a promise to let voters decide about future statue removals and street name changes.
“I want the issue brought to voters,” said Chris Carter. “I want my vote to be heard. I’ve gone to 3 of the task force meetings, and after 10 hours there was no chance to give any input. There was a lot of fake history brought up, and, of the 20 persons on the task force, a clear majority voted no on every compromise that was made.”
Hamilton Park Civic League President Thomas Jefferson referenced the dustup last week when two J.J. Pearce students posted inflammatory images on social media before a football game against Richardson High.
“What symbols represent hate? What symbols represent good? We have those on both sides. Just a few days ago, here in the Richardson school district, one school depicted another school using signs of hatred. They used Ku Klux Klan signs, they used lynching signs and they showed burned crosses. If you have one symbol that will cause hardship and division, what good does it do,” he asked. “We’re trying to solve a huge problem but don’t have the resources, so put it to a vote.”
“We did not get that on the Robert E. Lee statue,” agreed McGough, “but, hearing you all, it is something I will advocate for on the May ballot.”
“This was just one meeting,” said McGough, who stressed a need for more dialog on the issue to bring the community together. You may email the District 10 council member on this, or any other issue, at firstname.lastname@example.org.