Texas HB 1359 vs. The Censorship of History

Confederate statues and House Bill 1359 (AKA The Texas Heroes Act) have created quite the stir of late. First, due to a filibuster by Austin Democrats, voting on the bill was postponed. Then, a group called Texas Antifa announced that they were holding a protest demanding the removal of the Sam Houston Monument in Hermann Park. In response, a group called This Is Texas coordinated a counter-protest against Antifa in hopes of protecting Sam Houston and other historic monuments. Just one problem: Shortly after the counter-protest swarmed Hermann Park, it was revealed that Texas Antifa was a hoax coordinated by the hacktivist group Anonymous. In short, an elusive sect of cyber vigilantes pulled a clever PR stunt to highlight the need for HB 1359 to pass.

But what is HB 1359? And why are people so riled up about old art and relics? We’ll chop things up bite-sized so you can understand what all the hubbub is about in under five minutes.

What is HB 1359?

House Bill 1359 is a bill penned by Houstonian and State Representative James White. It was co-authored by Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson of Waco. If passed into law, it would become illegal to remove, relocate, change, or otherwise alter historic monuments and memorials without permission from the Texas Historical Commission.

But isn’t vandalism and theft already illegal?

Yep. However, right here in Houston, school boards are changing building names, Texas cities and towns are taking down statues, and even street names are being altered. Houston ISD alone has invested $1.2 Million into changing school names. HB 1359 isn’t about preventing vandalism or theft. It’s about preserving history despite the malleable whims of local officials and Social Justice Warriors (SJWs).

I heard the bill is dead. Is that true?

Kinda-sorta. While technically correct, “dead” seems too final a word for the bill’s status. In legislative lingo, all bills not passed “die” at sine die (the end of a legislative session). “Stalled” might be more apropos, because the bill can be refiled. Bill author, James White, stated in a recent press release that, “The Legislature will return to Austin on July 18th to tackle those conservative issues that did not pass during the regular session.” So, basically, Rep. White has pledged to refile and get the bill voted on, on Tuesday, July 18, 2017.

Why would someone want to remove or destroy a monument?

Groups such as Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and Take ‘Em Down NOLA claim that some historic monuments glorify an era when slavery and racism were acceptable. They believe schools named after people such as Robert E. Lee promote white supremacy. Currently, in Austin, far-left and BLM supporters are championing the removal of historic monuments at courthouses and town squares.

Jaquita Wilson, a recent candidate for the Georgetown Independent School District school board, who has publicly aligned herself with Black Lives Matter on platforms such as Twitter, told KXAN News, “I think people will say well the Confederacy can’t be that bad if we have a statue outside the courthouse.”

Does HB 1359 only protect statues?

No. If signed into law, it will protect statues as well as monuments, graves, portraits, plaques, seals, symbols, building names, and street names that honor Texas heroes or other Texans of historic significance.

What happens if you break the law?

The penalty for breaking the law would be a fine of $50 – $1,000, and three days to a year in jail. Some have said these penalties are too light. In fact, Jeremy Alcede of This Is Texas has stated that penalties should be closer to 10 years in jail and $50,000.

Are you sure this isn’t fake news or faux outrage?

The concern is legitimate. In the past few years many Houston ISD schools have been stripped of their historic names and rebranded to honor people deemed less controversial (at least for now). In fact, in 2016 HISD approved a whopping $1.2 Million budget dedicated to erasing the historical heritage of seven schools. Those name changes are as follows:

  • Lee High School is being changed to Margaret Long Wisdom High School
  • Albert Sidney Johnston Middle School is being changed to Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School
  • Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Middle School is being changed to Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence
  • John Reagan High School is being changed to Heights High School
  • Richard Dowling Middle School is being changed to Audrey H. Lawson Middle School
  • Sidney Lanier Middle School is being changed to Bob Lanier Middle School
  • Jefferson Davis High School is being changed to Northside High School

Besides school names and statues on government property, what else is at risk?

Street names, town names, and pretty much anything else that might remind SJWs of slavery, racism, or the Confederacy. Just a few months ago, Dowling Street in Houston was renamed Emancipation Avenue. While Emancipation Avenue is a great name for a street, it was used to erase the memory of Richard Dowling, a Civil War Confederate commander and red-headed immigrant from Ireland.

“Richard Dowling was a Houstonian business man,” explains Mister McKinney, a popular Houston historian and child educator. “He was an immigrant from Ireland and an entrepreneur. This is a man who passed away from yellow fever after his lungs were damaged rescuing a little girl from a fire. It’s sad to lose sight of history. People in favor of taking down statues and renaming streets, often they’re teaching to a talking point instead of looking at the big picture. However controversial a historic person may be, it’s important to remember them for who they were in the context of their time and place, and how their actions changed the cultural and political landscape of our modern world.”

Why are some people against moving the statues to museums? Why are they so passionate about keeping them displayed in high profile public settings?

There are many reasons, but generally speaking, proponents of preserving historic monuments in public settings warn that if you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it. Groups like Anonymous are against the censorship of history and suppression of truth. Good or bad, happy or disturbing, flattering or shameful, it is vital we live in constant memory of the lessons of the past. History should be taught and revered, not quarantined to museums or segregated behind red velour dividers.

What if instead of taking down the statues, we added plaques providing context?

Look at you and your problem-solving self! Education is always a fabulous idea.

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