A Houston museum dedicated to African-American culture will display a more than 100-year-old Confederate statue on its grounds. Officials say the move provides black Americans a way to confront slavery’s painful legacy and embrace their own experiences.
City workers removed the towering bronze statue called “Spirit of the Confederacy” from a downtown Houston park in June. The statue has been in storage since then.
John Guess, Jr., is CEO emeritus of the Houston Museum of African American Culture. “There is a need for our folks to heal. The way you get rid of the pain is to not bury it as if it had never existed, but to confront it and engage with it,” he says. “This allows our community to do this.”
The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the 12-foot statue in 1908. It depicts a winged male figure holding palm tree foliage and a sword. An inscription below the statue reads: “To all heroes of the South who fought for the principles of states’ rights.”
Many Confederate sympathizers argue that the Civil War was fought to establish states’ rights. But most historians say slavery was the root cause of the war.
“We now have a chance to dialogue with that history and say something about it. Know this was really about slavery,” Guess says. “And we have an image that our community can consistently speak to, especially during times like now.”
In recent months, many Confederate symbols and monuments have been damaged or brought down by demonstrators or removed by local authorities. God instructs Christians to “give no offense” (1 Corinthians 10:32), and such removals can be part of obeying that command.
Guess believes the museum is the first African American institution in the country to house a Confederate monument. Other Confederate statues have been removed from public view and housed at museums or other facilities.
The “Spirit of the Confederacy” statue will be displayed in a courtyard. New fencing has been built around the statue so it cannot be seen from the street. People will be able to view it online or make an appointment to see it from behind a window. Museum officials say people will be able to see the statue up close from the courtyard at a later date.
The statue sits facing a collection of eye sculptures by Bert Long Jr., a black Houston artist.
“The eyes of black America are staring at this statue, at this philosophy. We are having a standoff,” Guess says.
Not everyone is thrilled about the new statue at the museum. Guess understands people’s concerns. But he says, “We don’t get past that pain and get to healing without at times confronting them.”
(John Guess, Jr., talks about the bronze statue “The Spirit of the Confederacy” on display at the Houston Museum of African American Culture, Tuesday, August 18, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)