AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Three days after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Texas will observe the state holiday of Confederate Heroes Day on Thursday. Democrats in the Texas House said it should be the last time.
The Texas legislature established the holiday in 1973 “to honor Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and other Confederate heroes.” Lawmakers on Wednesday morning argued that phrase is an oxymoron.
“We are celebrating a harmful, hateful past,” Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) said. “We celebrate things by marking them with holidays and statues. It’s a constant reminder of the supremacy which they are trying to establish… the reminder has to be eradicated.”
Rep. Johnson has now filed legislation to abolish the holiday three sessions in a row. In 2019, the legislation heard testimony in the House State Affairs Committee but was left pending and never reached a vote on the House floor. In 2021, the bill died in the same committee without a hearing.
The group of 13 Democrats speaking for Rep. Johnson’s latest bill hope this is the session it passes.
“The momentum has been building,” Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) said. “We’re not just making a statement. We’re here to pass the bill. And I do expect [Republicans] to support this. I could be disappointed. I have been in the past. But we’re here and we’re serious.”
Last session, at least seven Republicans coauthored or sponsored Rep. Johnson’s bill to abolish the holiday, including Justin Holland, Matt Shaheen, John Cyrier, Matt Krause, Jeff Leach, Jim Murphy, and Scott Sanford.
“There are those that will stand with you, there are those that will stand and fight,” Rep. Johnson said, regarding Republican support of the bill. “But oftentimes, the apprehension may be there because of their own constituents.”
“Why aren’t the Republicans standing up here? We’re in a fairly difficult political environment,” Sen. Johnson said. “Right now, if a Republican comes and stands up here, they’re making some kind of message and they’re going to get in trouble, probably. But that’s different than casting a vote.”
The legislature established Confederate Heroes Day on January 19 to coincide with Robert E. Lee’s birthday. One of Democrats’ main concerns is that it falls to close to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Sen. Nathan Johnson noted that the two holidays will fall on the same day four times in the next twenty years.
“How does that make you feel?,” he said.
Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson offered a compromise: rename the holiday to “Civil War Heroes Day” to include the Texans who fought for the Union.
“Make it an accurate representation of history,” he said. “I’m focused on honoring history. You don’t honor the warts, but you recognize the warts.”
He argued this debate lacks a nuanced understanding of history and accused those moving to abolish the holiday of “selective indignation.”
“We should honor Martin Luther King, we should honor Robert E. Lee,” he said. “Buffalo soldiers, Union soldiers, and Confederate soldiers served Texas honorably. All should be honored.”