The Texas Supreme Court building is the largest Confederate memorial in the world. Kirk Lyons, a lawyer with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, wants me to know this. He says it, repeats it. At the beginning of the conversation. In the middle. At the end, twice.
"That building is still the largest Confederate memorial in the world," Lyons tells me. I've written it down. I'll underline it again. "The courts made this clear. It's still the largest Confederate memorial in the world. And if we have to go on another 13 years -- because, look, it's been 13 years already -- to get these plaques put back up, then so be it."
Lyons says - and not incorrectly, based on his rationale - that the squarish Supreme Court complex, completed nearly a century after the end of the Civil War, stands as the grand beacon to the sanctity and sacrifice of the erstwhile Confederate Army. Just prior to the building's construction in the late '50s, the state constitution was amended to transfer all monies remaining within the Confederate Pension fund to a new state building fund. An agreement, however, was struck: Brethren and kin of Confederate Texans offered their acquiescence to the deal, so long as the state promised to dedicate the next state building constructed to the memory of all those who fought for Texas's sixth flag.
As such, after the completion of the Supreme Court building, the state added a pair of plaques. A public ceremony provided witness that Texas had, indeed, saddled up with the Confederate States of America, and that, as Robert E. Lee's bronzed quote read, "[The Texans] have fought grandly, nobly, and we must have more of them."
And that was fine. Legislators - one of whom, apparently, had initially called for Stars and Bars-tinted skylights - let the plaques lay. Confederate hangers-on wandered past, pointing at the blocky construct, highlighted by their forbearers' symbols and repute. And that was fine.
And then the 21st Century bullied forward, and George W. Bush, according to Lyons, sought a speaking slot at an NAACP gathering during his 2000 campaign. And that's when everything broke.
"Bush cut a deal with the NAACP," Lyons explained, voice hardening around Bush's name. "He made a deal to take down the plaques. In the middle of the night, they were jackhammered off the building, no one around to stop them.
"This was an executive fiat. And that's why you'll never see me supporting that man."
(This seems as fine as place as any to note that the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed Lyons a "white supremacist lawyer," a title he disavows.)
This act simply would not do. The two plaques - one with Lee's quote, one emblazoned with the "Great Seal of the Confederate States," as Lyons terms it - were spirited away, purportedly sequestered in the Texas General Land Office (GLO). They were taken with neither consultation nor warning. And these two pieces - halves of a neo-Confederate Ark, it would seem - were replaced by a pair of new offerings.
One of these replacement plaques, which Lyons says is perfectly acceptable, stands as a call for "Equal Access to Justice." But the other, according to Lyons, doesn't do justice to the fact that the building is, well, a memorial. Which is interesting, considering that it reads:
Because this building was built with monies from the Confederate Pension fund it was, at that time, designated as a memorial to the Texans who served the Confederacy.
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Now, some 13 years on - and a dozen years after legal wrangling first unfolded, with no discernible change to the status quo - Lyons and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have filed a motion in the local district court to reinstate the plaques that once stood. Citing a technicality - that this new tablet to Confederate memory did not pass through the Texas Historical Society's approval mechanisms - it is Lyons's hope that that the two originals may be lifted from the GLO and restored to their former public duties.
"In working with the state, it's become pretty clear that we're going to have to force their hand at every turn, and that they're not willing to do what is right," he said. "I think the state's shown that it's inherently hostile to the Confederate community, that it doesn't mind biting the hand that fed them. I mean, they have no appreciation for where the funds for their fancy new offices and fancy chairs came from."
Lyons noted that the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, instead of waiting for the state to dust the plaques out of storage, could approach the Texas Historical Society themselves with an application. May happen as soon as next month, Lyons said. May happen a month later. Point being, it's been 13 years, and he's ready for another 13 afterward, and so on, and, yes, the new plaque already memorializes the Confederate soldiers, and, fine, there are already more than a dozen Confederate memorials surrounding the Capitol, but these two - these originals, these halves - well, they're what's important, right?
Because, after all, this Supreme Court building's the largest Confederate memorial in the world. Or haven't you heard?