Calling the Confederate Heroes’ Day celebration a “permanent reminder” of a terrible past, Rep. Jarvis Johnson, a Democrat from Houston, on Wednesday called on Texas to stop celebrating it as a public holiday.
Confederate Heroes Day is celebrated on January 19. The holiday commemorates Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee, as well as soldiers who died fighting against the Union during the Civil War. In Texas, Davis and Lee’s birthdays used to be celebrated separately, but in 1973 they were combined on Confederate Heroes’ Day.
“When we talk about what Confederate Heroes Day is, it’s a memory of a terrible past,” Johnson, a black man, said at a press conference surrounded by other lawmakers. “A past that has irreparably damaged many Texas residents.”
Johnson’s bill to abolish Confederate Heroes’ Day is his third attempt; similar laws have not gone beyond committees in the last two legislative sessions. In 2019, the House State Committee, then chaired by current Speaker Dade Phelan, Rep. Beaumont Republican, did not bring Johnson’s bill to a vote.
In 2019, the Descendants of Confederate Veterans opposed the law. A spokesman for the group declined to comment on the new legislation.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Johnson was surrounded by leaders of the Texas Black Leadership Caucus, the House Democratic Caucus and the Mexican American Legislature.
“We cannot stand by as our state continues to officially celebrate and glorify the men who believed so deeply that black men and women had no rights, that they would go to war,” said Rep. Christina Morales, a Democrat from Houston, who is Vice President of the Mexican-American Legislature. “We must teach our history to our children, but our children must grow up knowing that the Confederacy does not uphold the values of freedom that we continue to fight for today.”
Johnson has rebuffed those who say honoring Confederate veterans is part of their heritage, saying he is also a descendant of a Confederate soldier, a white slave owner who raped his black slave. Johnson said his great-great-great-grandmother later fled to Texas.
“Never in my life, in the lives of my children, will I ever celebrate this part of my history,” Johnson said. “There is no point in glorifying a person who has harmed and harmed others.”
Confederate Heroes Day often falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or the same day it honors a murdered black civil rights leader. in 1968. The holidays will fall on the same day four times over the next 20 years, according to State Senator Nathan Johnson, Dallas, who sponsors the legislation in the upper house.
Seven other states have similar Confederate commemorations. Mississippi and Alabama have a joint Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day. In 2020, Virginia canceled its Confederate holiday, Lee-Jackson Day, as a public holiday.
Nathan Johnson said that celebrating the holiday in Texas makes him “feel bad”.
“If I introduced a bill today to establish Confederate Heroes Day, would you vote for it? Would you listen to him?” he asked. “This thing has no place in our books. It creates division, whether we like it or not.”
Jarvis Johnson said he hopes the legislation will move this session forward, but there are significant hurdles. No Republicans, who have majorities in both houses of the Legislature, attended the press conference, although some of them had previously signed as cosponsors of Johnson’s bills. And in recent years, top Republican leaders have protected Confederate monuments even as other states like Virginia have demolished them.
Jarvis Johnson said that every time a bill is submitted, it gains traction with the public.
“I believe that through perseverance and perseverance, we can achieve this,” he said.