Towering twelve feet tall with a hand extended palm down as if trying to pacify a crowd, the bronze statue of Texas Ranger Captain E.J. “Jay” Banks has greeted visitors to Dallas Love Field airport since 1963. But in the early morning hours of June 4, a crew of workers hired by the city of Dallas swiftly took it down and hauled it away to storage.
The decision to remove the statue came after D Magazine ran an excerpt of Doug J. Swanson’s new book, Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers, an unsparing look at the group’s often-violent past. Though Swanson acknowledges the Rangers’ important acts of crime-fighting, the book largely focuses on the group’s dark early history, depicting the Rangers as a marauding band of quasi-legal gunmen who had a hand in massacres and other atrocities against Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
The excerpt focuses on the “backstory of the Love Field Ranger,” which Swanson calls “one of fire, blood, intolerance, and injustice.” The story begins in 1956, when the NAACP tried to force the integration of a high school in Mansfield, about thirty miles southwest of Dallas, and white residents responded in rage. A group of Rangers, led by Banks, arrived on the scene. Rather than protect or escort the black students, Banks was there to keep them out. An infamous photo, shown in the excerpt and book, captures the moment. In the foreground, Banks leans casually against a tree, his gun belted to his hip. In the background a white mob assembles at the schoolhouse doors, beneath a dummy in blackface hanging from a noose. As Swanson writes, Banks made no attempt to take down the effigy or disperse the mob. Later he explained his indifference, writing of the segregationists, “They were just ‘salt of the earth’ citizens.”
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That history apparently moved Love Field administrators. Chris Perry, a spokesman for the airport, said that he and other officials read the excerpt and were concerned because ”the model for the statue was featured in images that appeared to show flippancy toward racial issues.” The decision to remove the statue of Banks also came just two weeks shy of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a native Texan, which sparked national protests against systemic racism and the removal of Confederate statues across the country.
But why did it take a book to force the statue’s removal? The Rangers’ violent past is no secret. The role of “Los Diablos Tejanos” has been passed down through generations of Mexican Americans and researched by Hispanic scholars. Sonia Hernández, an associate professor at Texas A&M, works with the nonprofit group Refusing to Forget to shine a light on the Rangers’ killings of Mexicans and Mexican Americans between 1910 and 1920, a particularly violent period of border enforcement. “[Facing] the Rangers, to the Mexican American community, was like facing the Klan—except perhaps in a more grotesque way because they did not have to cover themselves up,” she said.
Hernández suggests that because Swanson, unlike many of those previous historians, is a white male, his work got more attention. “I know that Swanson credits scholarship by both Latinx historians and non-Latinx historians, but this is not surprising, especially when you’re dealing with the work of female historians,” Hernández said. “I can point to the work of my colleague Monica Muñoz Martinez. Her book, The Injustice Never Leaves You, came out in 2018, and that could have been the tipping point for the Dallas airport officials and for them to proceed.” (Perry said that officials did not know about Martinez’s book and did not know about Banks’s history prior to Swanson’s excerpt.)
Regardless, for Hernández, the removal of the Banks statue was a “watershed moment”—and one that didn’t happen in a vacuum. “It takes years for scholars to do the research, but I believe that we’re seeing the results now. And the removal of the statue at the Dallas airport is concrete evidence of the impact of this new scholarship that doesn’t worship history, that doesn’t glorify history, but tells it like it is.”
Attempts to relocate or remove the statue have been made in the past. In 1992, Domingo Garcia, then a Dallas council member, proposed that the statue be taken down. “It’s personal for me. My mother and grandmother are from the small town of Porvenir,” said Garcia, who is now the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “In 1918, the Texas Rangers arrived there and rounded up all the boys and men and executed them. It’s one of the largest massacres in Texas history. My grandmother and mother had to flee, and that story has been passed down to me.” According to Garcia, few council members showed any interest—and it never came to a vote.
Last year, the city’s Arts and Culture Advisory Commission and Public Art Committee unanimously voted to replace the Banks statue with a statue of Adelfa Callejo, who is believed to be the first practicing Latina lawyer in Dallas. But two council members balked, raising concerns that Callejo didn’t have a connection to transportation or aviation, leaving the statue in limbo for months. Finally, in January, a Dallas City Council committee agreed to have the Callejo statue erected at Dallas’s Main Street Garden park, which is next to the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law. The committee left the Banks statue in place at the airport.
The future of the Banks statue is still unknown. Officials could decide to move it to another location, auction it off, or even return it to the airport. The Office of Arts and Culture is taking community input online and an advisory board is working on recommendations for the city council to consider. Catherine Cuellar, director of communications for the City of Dallas, said that because of the coronavirus crisis, she couldn’t say when the city would reach a decision.
Swanson has said he doesn’t agree with the removal of the statue, telling the Dallas Morning News, “I’m not for silencing or abolishing pieces of history.” He thinks that giving such objects context is necessary—whether by adding a plaque to problematic statues or erecting other statues of important historical figures.
“Icons like the Ranger statue gave no indication that violence and segregation were part of the Rangers’ past. I think that’s part of why people are pulling down statues across the country,” Swanson told Texas Monthly. “These statues only tell a small part of its history and often overlook some grievous behavior against groups like Mexican Americans and black people and Native Americans, who deserve to have their stories told too.”
Hernández, who’s also fighting for the removal of a statue of Sul Ross—the Texas Ranger, Confederate general, governor of Texas, and president of what’s now Texas A&M—at A&M’s College Station campus, acknowledges that hiding the darker parts of the Rangers’ history isn’t the answer. She says putting the statue of Banks in a museum rather than a public space would allow for the history to be taught, instead of glorifying his actions.
“I don’t think if we rescue and we write a real history—the true history—that that’s going to damage Texas,” Hernández said. “I think it’s going to make it better. Texas is a huge state with numerous populations, and we need to make room for all those populations. They have to see themselves reflected in their state’s history.”