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Some Confederate symbols difficult to remove

At least six Southern states have laws that protect monuments

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FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2017 file photo, the Texas State Capitol Confederate Monument stands on the south lawn in Austin, Texas. As a racial justice reckoning continues to inform conversations across the country, lawmakers nationwide are struggling to find solutions to thousands of icons saluting controversial historical figures.
FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2017 file photo, the Texas State Capitol Confederate Monument stands on the south lawn in Austin, Texas. As a racial justice reckoning continues to inform conversations across the country, lawmakers nationwide are struggling to find solutions to thousands of icons saluting controversial historical figures. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) Photo Gallery

AUSTIN, Texas — Just past the gate at an entrance to the Texas Capitol, a large monument honoring the soldiers of the Confederacy looms, with towering statues and an inscription that reads, “Died for state rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”

It is one of seven Confederate memorials on the Texas Capitol grounds alone. There are over 2,000 Confederate symbols – from monuments to building names – in public spaces nationwide, more than a century and a half after the Civil War ended slavery, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The movement to remove Confederate monuments and depictions of historical figures who mistreated Native Americans became part of the national reckoning over racial injustice following George Floyd’s death last year in Minneapolis. While many have been removed – or torn down by protesters – it’s proven difficult to remove the rest.

At least six Southern states have policies protecting monuments, the law center said, while historical preservation boards and Republican legislative majorities have slowed the momentum, saying it’s important to preserve America’s past.

“We are at a really important moment of reckoning and racial justice,” said Texas Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat who introduced a proposal in the Republican-controlled Legislature to remove Confederate depictions at the statehouse. “This fits into that process of really racial truth and reconciliation.”

But he’s up against Republican legislation to protect monuments. Anchia’s measure is still waiting for a committee hearing, where attempts to remove Confederate monuments and holidays have died in previous sessions.

Texas isn’t the only place where the issue faces an uphill battle.

Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have preservation laws meant to “protect primarily monuments and memorials to the Confederacy,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff of the Southern Poverty Law Center. A majority of them went up in the early Jim Crow era.

“The truth of the matter is that most of these monuments and memorials don’t offer any historical context at all,” Brooks said. “It is just a way to venerate people who fought for the continuation of slavery.”

In Alabama, a 2017 law approved as some cities began taking down Confederate statues forbids the removal or alteration of monuments more than 40 years old. Violations carry a $25,000 fine, but some cities have opted to pull them down and pay.

In March, Alabama lawmakers rejected revisions to the law that would have given cities and counties a way to take down Confederate monuments and relocate them for preservation.

In Pennsylvania, a bill from Senate Republicans would prevent removing public monuments without legislative approval, with penalties of up to a felony charge.

In a statement, GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano said his legislation came “in response to high-profile cases in which public monuments were vandalized.”

At the Ohio Capitol, the removal of a 9-foot-tall copper statue of Christopher Columbus has been delayed until at least 2025. It has stood on the statehouse grounds in the city that bears his name since 1932. Critics say monuments to the explorer ignore the mistreatment of Indigenous people as Europeans settled in North America.

Delaying the statue’s removal came after a board of state lawmakers and city leaders decided in July that a formal removal process must be done by the agency managing the grounds.

According to a rule approved in February by the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, anyone can submit a proposal to remove “commemorative works,” but final approval will take five years.

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