Fate of Jefferson Davis monument in Brownsville topic of work session

A view of the Jefferson Davis Memorial at Washington Park in downtown Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

Where to move the Jefferson Davis monument in Washington Park is the subject of a Brownsville City Commission public “work session” today in the City Manager’s Office at 1001 E. Elizabeth St.

Like other Confederate monuments around the South, the plaque set in stone has stirred controversy, defenders arguing for its value in terms of historical heritage and others decrying it as a racist symbol representing an unjust, failed cause that should not be maintained on city property.

Jefferson Davis was the only president of the Confederate States during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. The Washington Park monument was donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1926, originally meant as a highway marker for the never-constructed, coast-to-coast Jefferson Davis Highway conceived by the UDC.

In 2016, a former Brownsville resident named Antonio Castillo started a petition drive for the memorial to be removed, gathering 5,000 signatures. In 2017, the memorial was vandalized with spray paint. Subsequently, the city held a public forum and conducted an online survey that indicated a preference among residents for removing the memorial from Washington Park.

Frontera Progressives and Arte Civico Circle later held a public forum to collect public input, and the results were presented to the city commission in March 2018, after which the commission agreed to act.

District 4 Commissioner Ben Neece chaired initial meetings with stakeholders on what to do with the monument, though the process was interrupted by the UDC, which claimed ownership of the monument and demanded it back. In December, the city attorney rendered an opinion that the memorial is city property and that the UDC has no legal claim to it.

Earlier this month, Neece took part in a meeting with various stakeholders, all of whom agreed in principle that the monument should be moved. The question of location, and how the monument will be presented, will be topics of debate at tonight’s public work session.