It’s going to be a busy weekend at the Capitol. After years of planning—including one failed project—there will finally be a monument commemorating African Americans on the Capitol grounds. The Texas African-American History Memorial will officially be unveiled at ten in the morning on Saturday with a barbecue open to the public to celebrate afterward. And then, two hours later, a White Lives Matter protest is scheduled to take place.
The struggle to get African-American representation on the Capitol grounds, which are dotted with twenty statues and monuments including some dedicated to Confederate soldiers, began in 1999. Former state representative Al Edwards led a bill to build a monument commemorating Juneteenth, the celebration marking June 19, 1865, when Texas slaves were freed over than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The five-statue monument came under criticism when it was pointed out that one of the statues seemed to resemble Edwards. In 2012, the monument, though completed, was placed in a foundry instead of at the Capitol, and a plan to replace it with a monument commemorating African-American Texans was introduced.
Ed Dwight, a sculptor based in Denver, proposed the large two-sided African-American memorial that will be unveiled Saturday. One part of the monument will depict 48 slaves and marks the arrival of slaves in Texas all the way up to emancipation on Juneteenth. Other parts of the monument will mark the contributions of black Texans to industries such as cattle, music, energy, and science, covering over 400 years of history. The monument, situated on the south lawn of the Capitol, is 27-feet tall and 32-feet wide. In September, when the first parts of the monument were placed at the Capitol, Dwight explained the significance of the memorial to the Austin American-Statesman:
In some states, they feel they’ve got a history they’ve got to live down and all this is a reminder. This is part of people’s history, and you can’t walk away from the reality of it all. … Each state has experienced slavery and civil rights in a different way because they had different laws and different fervor.
Ken Reed, an organizer of the White Lives Matter rally told the Statesman that the group was unaware of the monument unveiling when they planned their event. According to Reed, their protest will focus on what they believe to be an “unequal” application of hate crime laws to white people, and that they’re “not trying to interrupt or disrupt” the unveiling.
Even if the scheduling of the White Lives Matter rally is just an unfortunate coincidence, it’s one that’s difficult to overlook. Often, after racial progress, there has been white backlash, which CNN commentator Van Jones explains is how the U.S. will go from its first black president to a man who has made various sexist, racist, and xenophobic statements. But having a celebration of the history of the accomplishments of African Americans in Texas somewhat marred by the presence of White Lives Matter protesters doesn’t seem to faze state Representative Helen Giddings, the chairwomen of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. “This day is not about exclusivity, but about bringing people together,” Giddings told the Statesman.
Planning to join the monument unveiling and the White Lives Matter protesters at the Capitol on Saturday is the group Smash Fascism Austin. On Facebook, the group has planned a counter-protest called “Stop the Neo-Nazis ‘White Lives Matter’ Rally.” According to the event details, it will begin at eleven in the morning, and the group plans to “turn out in overwhelming numbers, drown out [White Lives Matter’s] message of hate, and show them the people of Austin will not stand for fascists organizing on our streets.”
Shawn Williams, spokesman for the Texas African-American History Memorial Foundation, told the Statesman that there is “no concern” about the protests, but that the Texas Department of Public Safety is “taking the necessary precautions.”