Civil War Monuments
Policy and Process Recommendations for Evaluating Requests for Removal and Relocation of Monuments or Markers
September 7, 2017
By Mark Wolfe, Executive Director, Texas Historical Commission
As you are well aware, the mission of the Texas Historical Commission (referred to in this document as “the Commission”) is to preserve our state’s historically significant places, including those shaped by the Civil War.
The impact of the Civil War on Texas history was profound, as are the emotions it continues to evoke across our state today. As a slave-holding state and member of the Confederacy, Texas was at the center of many of the war’s most pivotal events. Nearly 100,000 Texans served in the military during the war, and more than twice that number of Texans were enslaved.
Thousands of Texans lost their lives in battle, some on the side of the Union, but most on the side of the Confederacy. In response to this service, previous generations of Texans made the decision to place public monuments and memorials to honor their dead and to commemorate this epochal event.
Today, we see many communities pondering the role of these objects, both in the way they convey their history and in the way they choose to portray themselves to their residents and visitors. Many are discussing the potential removal and relocation of Confederate monuments and markers –– objects that not only communicate that history, but have themselves become part of history.
The Commission’s authority over these decisions depends on the location of the objects and their level of designation.
While each request will be unique, just as the individual monuments and communities are unique, Commissioners and applicants must be able to rely upon a consistent evaluation process and policy. The staff of the Texas Historical Commission –– architects, archeologists, historians and administrators –– is providing a list of questions to help guide Commissioners’ discussions and deliberations as they evaluate requests for the removal and/or relocation of Confederate monuments or markers.
While the intent of these questions is to help commissioners develop a uniform baseline of “technical” facts for evaluating permit requests, any decision of this nature would be incomplete without also taking into account the “non-technical” aspects of a community’s permit request. The unique motivations and discussions that lead a community to apply for a permit –– those factors which cannot be captured by a standard list of criteria –– must also be considered.
As a reminder, the following is a description of the Texas Historical Commission’s evaluation process for permit requests. Please note that some properties have several levels of designation. In such cases, all requirements must be met for each level of designation unless otherwise advised in writing by the Commission. It is proposed that the final decision in all cases would be made by the full Commission or by its Executive Committee:
Some courthouses and other properties that either are or were at one time, publicly owned, are protected by covenants held by the Commission. In these cases, the terms of the individual covenant will govern the process for applying for approval to remove or relocate a marker or monument. Such projects require the consent of the Commission.
State Antiquities Landmarks:
Some county courthouses and other public places where these monuments and markers can be found are designated as State Antiquities Landmarks (SALs). If the owner of a SAL wants to remove or relocate a marker or monument, they must first notify the Commission. Within 30 days of such notification, the Commission staff will provide the owner with the necessary application forms. Upon receipt of a completed application, the Commission has 60 days to determine whether or not a permit will be issued. If a permit is denied, the proposed project cannot go forward.
County Courthouse Law:
Many monuments and markers are located on the grounds of county courthouses. Under Government Code 442.008(a), counties wishing to remove or relocate such objects must notify the Commission at least 6 months before such action is taken. This provides the Commission with an opportunity to work with the county in an effort to accommodate the county’s goals without damaging the historical integrity of the courthouse or its surroundings. After the 6 months have passed, if the county and the THC have not come to an agreement, the county may move forward with its proposed project.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks:
Many of the Commission’s markers identify properties as Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks (RTHLs). This includes courthouses and parks where monuments and markers can be found. Government Code Section 442.006(f) requires that the owners of RTHLs provide the Commission with a minimum of 60 days written notice before proceeding with a project that will change the appearance of the landmark property. Upon receiving such notice, the Commission may extend the review period by an additional 30 days. At the end of the 60 (or 90) day period, the property owner may move forward with their project, with or without the Commission’s permission, and the project must be completed within 180 days.
Markers and Monuments on State Lands:
Markers and monuments on state land can only be removed with the permission of the state legislature, the State Preservation Board, or the Texas Historical Commission. This includes statues, portraits, plaques, seals, symbols, building names and street names on state land honoring Texas citizens for their military or war-related service. Government Code Section 2166.5011.
State Markers on Non-State Lands:
All state markers installed by the Texas Historical Commission since 1955 are property of the State of Texas and were installed with the consent of the property owners, or are within state-owned right-of-way. Removal of these markers requires Commission approval.
National Register of Historic Places:
Some monuments are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In these cases, if there is no other designation and the monument is not on federal or state land or on the grounds of a county courthouse, the Commission has no review authority unless federal permits or funding are involved.
Local Landmark Designation:
Removal or relocation of locally-designated landmarks will usually require the permission of a local landmark commission. The Texas Historical Commission has no review authority unless federal permits or funding are involved.
Monuments and markers in cemeteries are subject to the processes stated above depending on their level of designation. In addition, the removal or relocation of such monuments is subject to the State Health and Safety Code.
RECOMMENDED GUIDELINES FOR EVALUATING REMOVAL/RELOCATION PERMIT REQUESTS
When evaluating permit requests for the removal or relocation of markers or monuments, Commissioners are encouraged to apply the following analysis. Please note that these guidelines are not in priority order, nor are they weighted in any way. The circumstances of each individual situation will guide the decision-making process:
1. Has the object retained its physical historical integrity? That is, does it still look like it did at least 50 years ago? Is it still at the same location where it was placed at least 50 years ago? Does it retain the same physical context it had at least 50 years ago? If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then it is more likely that the marker or monument should be retained and remain in place. If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then it is less likely that the monument should be retained or remain in place
2. Is the object unique in some way, or the work of an important designer? This should be applied both to the object itself and to any cultural landscape of which it is a part. If the answer to this question is “yes”, then it is more likely that the object should be retained and remain in place. If the answer to this question is “no”, then it is less likely that the object should be retained or remain in place.
3. Is the object an element within a larger design that would be affected by its removal? Is it, for example, one of several sculptures or markers in a series, part of a larger whole? Is it visually connected in some way to adjacent landscape features or buildings, or was the surrounding landscape designed to provide views of the sculpture? If the object was part of a larger design that will be negatively affected by the object’s removal, then it is more likely that the object should be retained and remain in place. If removal of the object will not affect adjacent features, then it is less likely that the object should be retained or remain in place.
4. Assuming that the object celebrates or commemorates a particular group or person, what is the actual connection of that group or person to practices that are reprehensible or shameful? If the group or person was only tangentially or unexceptionally connected with the practice, then it is more likely that the object should be retained and remain in place. If the group or person actively promoted the practice, then it is less likely that the object should be retained or remain in place.
5. To the extent that this can be determined, what was the purpose of the original recognition? If the purpose of the original recognition was because of contributions toward the local, regional, statewide or national community that are not connected to shameful or reprehensible practices, then it is more likely that the object should be retained and remain in place. If the purpose of the original recognition was because of the group or person’s connection with shameful or reprehensible practices, or to intimidate local residents, then it is less likely that the object should be retained or remain in place.
6. Can public objections to the presence/location of the object or the content of language displayed on the object be addressed through mitigative interpretation that provides greater historical context? If so, then it is more likely that the object should be retained and reinterpreted in place. If not, then it is less likely that the object should be retained or remain in place.
7. Has the potential removal/relocation of the object been approved either by the vote of the people of the community or that of their appropriate elected officials? If so, then it is less likely that the object should be retained or remain in place. If not, then it is more likely that the object should be retained or remain in place.
8. Are there public safety concerns related to the object’s current location? If not, then it is more likely that the object should be retained and remain in place. If there are public safety concerns that would be alleviated by removing or relocating the object, then it is more likely that it should be removed or relocated.
9. Is the object proposed to be relocated to an alternate site? If there is no plan for the use of appropriate professionals in the disassembly, removal, transportation, or relocation, then it is more likely that the object should be retained at its current location. If the object is proposed for relocation, and there is such a plan, then it is more likely that the object should be relocated.
10. Is the object more or less likely to be properly maintained if it is relocated? If the object is more likely to be properly maintained at its current location, then the object should be retained in place. If the object is more likely to be properly maintained at a new location, then it is more likely that it should be relocated.
11. What protection (law enforcement presence, covenants, etc.) does the object have now, and how will that be affected by relocation? If the object is protected at its current location, then it is more likely that the object should be retained in place. If the object is more likely to be better protected at a new location, then it is more likely that it should be moved.
12. Will visitation to the object be impacted by its relocation? If heritage tourists seeking out this kind of monument or marker are more likely to see the object at its current location, then it is more likely that it should remain in place. If heritage tourists seeking out this kind of monument or marker can easily find it at its new location, then it is more likely that it should be moved.