During a press conference on Jan 18, Houston Democrat State Representative Jarvis Johnson, surrounded by other lawmakers, announced his third attempt at ending Texas’ Confederate Heroes Day. With no success, Johnson had made similar legislation in the past two legislative sessions.
Falling annually on Jan. 19, the date commemorates the lives of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee, none of whom were from Texas, as well as local soldiers who served in the Civil War for the Confederation. According to the Texas Tribune, the commemoration was consolidated in 1973, unifying what used to be two separate celebrations for Davis’ and Lee’s birthdays.
"We cannot stand by as our state continues to formally celebrate and glorify the men who believed so deeply that Black men and women did not have rights, that they would go to war," said Johnson.
Christina Morales, a Houston Democrat and vice chair for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, commented on the importance of teaching history to children, making sure they “grow up knowing that the Confederacy does not stand for the values of freedom that we continue to fight for today."
While similar commemorations are still held in other seven southern states, most are celebrated between April and June, but in Texas, oftentimes Confederate Heroes Day falls close to, or the same day as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is celebrated on the third Monday of January.
In a report by Texas Monthly in 2020, Johnson spoke about Confederate memorials and Confederate Heroes Day in connection with the George Floyd and Tamir Rice protests. “These images and words give some people the courage and even the audacity to do what they do to people of color because it emboldens them,” Johnson said. “A hero is somebody that’s done something noble. There are no heroes in the Confederacy.”
Johnson also responded to arguments of heritage used in the past to oppose the abolishment of the commemoration. In 2019, according to the Tribune, the Descendants of Confederate Veterans opposed the legislation. Johnson, who is Black, said he himself is the descendant of a Confederate soldier — a white slave owner who raped his Black slave, Johnson’s great-great-great-grandmother.
"At no point in my life, at no point in my children's life, will I ever celebrate that part of my history," Johnson said. "There is no point in celebrating an individual that created harm and did such harmful things to others."
In 2020, the state of Virginia removed its Confederate holiday and Johnson is hopeful for the success of the bill. He believes that each time the bill is filed it gains momentum with the public.
"I believe through perseverance and persistence that we will be able to get this done," he said.