Court Halts Robert E. Lee Statue’s Removal In Dallas After Near-Unanimous City Council Vote

A federal court on Wednesday temporarily halted the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Oak Lawn.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater granted a temporary restraining order as the removal appeared imminent. The Dallas City Council had voted in favor of immediate removal earlier in the morning and crews had been trying to figure out how to remove the statue through much of the afternoon.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The case was brought by Hiram Patterson against Mayor Mike Rawlings and the City Council.

The council had voted for the removal by a 13-1 margin following an impassioned public debate over the monument of the Confederate general and a young soldier on horseback.

A task force appointed by the mayor and the City Council will make recommendations about what to do with the statue in the future. The task force — which began meeting last week and was formally approved in the council vote Wednesday — will also weigh the future of the Confederate War Memorial near City Hall and other symbols of the Confederacy in Dallas, such as street names.

Dozens of speakers, given one minute each, turned out for the council vote Wednesday. Among them was Dallas resident and former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., and former City Council member Diane Ragsdale.

Some spoke passionately against the Lee statue, calling it a symbol of hatred and oppression. Others pushed for slowing down and making compromises, such as the construction of monuments to historically significant black Americans or allowing private donors to move the statues out of the public area. And several people accused the city of erasing history. One, John Clay, even said “removal of these monuments will not change the fact that the wrong side won.”

The Rev. Gerald Britt, one of the speakers in favor of taking down the monuments, said the city was wise to remove the statue, which was erected during an era of segregation.

“We’re not trying to rewrite history,” he said. “We’re trying to redeem history.”

Council members’ efforts to remove the statues heated up last month after protests and counterprotests around the Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., turned deadly.

In the days afterward, the four black council members in Dallas became increasingly adamant about the statues’ removal, and three of them requested that an item be placed on the agenda to discuss taking down the Lee statue.

Council member Philip Kingston, whose district includes Lee Park, lauded Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway and council member Tennell Atkins for pushing for a vote. He said that the council vote would set a “high moral standard” and that no more debate was necessary.

“The idea that there has been an insufficient public debate for this council to exercise moral leadership today is inaccurate,” Kingston said. “There have been debates about these monuments as long as I have lived in the city of Dallas. This is not new.”

But council member Sandy Greyson, who said residents of her Far North Dallas district wanted the statue to remain up, said she wanted the public process to unite people. She was the lone vote against the removal. Council member Rickey Callahan, who wanted the monuments put up for a voter referendum, did not vote in protest of the council’s decision to move forward.

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SOURCE: The Dallas Morning News – Tristan Hallman, Robert Wilonsky