Why I pursued this project? I was looking for a way to effect positive change to combat racism in Texas in the form of historical markers.
How are historical markers considered racist? When the text of a historical marker dehumanizes people, that is racism. Below are screenshots of the text of the two historical markers I reported. The one with the metal plaque had been installed by the Texas Historical Survey Committee in 1965. The granite one was erected in 1965 by The State of Texas.
Both markers were located on county courthouse grounds. Why does that matter? A courthouse’s mission is to deliver justice in an equal, if not equitable, manner. When specific people are depicted as “less than” human on a permanent monument or marker then it sends a message, intended or not, that this courthouse is not adhering to its mission. A courthouse should not exist to maintain a social hierarchy along racial or ethnic lines.
What was involved in this method to change/update a historical marker? The method I used was just one way to do it. Other ways to do it are petition, media attention, letters to the editor, and protest. The beauty of this method is that I was able to get the state process started for changing a marker using only my email. (It appeals to me since I'm an introvert)
Here’s the steps you can take if you find a marker that needs to be challenged for its text. Maybe other states have similar steps like Texas…I hope someone who reads this in another state will share their experience:
1. Research the text of the historical markers. Here’s my tips for doing this:
· Keyword filter I used at https://www.hmdb.org/ slave, Indian, etc.
· Screenshots of the marker to share in emails to county, city, etc.
2. The most important part was to establish a good rapport with someone within the Texas Historical Commission (THC) through email. Write a polite, factual, and short letter asking for any help that can be provided and suggestions on next steps to take.
3. Or you can skip previous step 2 and you can begin the process by utilizing the forms at this link: Marker Review Request | THC.Texas.gov - Texas Historical Commission’
4. If THC approves your marker review request(s), it will send you a letter stating that the next steps are two-fold:
· The county is notified of the proposed change and given a period of time to protest the change
· Next, if no county contests, THC Commissioners meet to approve or deny the request(s)
5. Then after that THC meeting date has passed, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org. However, for me that step didn’t work. I never got a reply. I looked up the email for who signed the letter I received and asked for an update. That didn’t work either. I contacted the same person by phone and left a message. That didn’t work. Then I waited and called that person’s supervisor leaving a polite message to the effect that I was following up on the status of 2 marker review requests I’d submitted on x date and that had been approved by the THC committee. Bingo! That worked because then I got a call from the person who had sent me a postal letter saying the review process was begun.
A "Positive Attitude" with emails: It's best to remain polite when writing about this matter. I found that it will open more doors to include phrases like:
Thanks for this info
Thanks for any help/suggestions you can provide
What steps can I take next to...
I'm following up on an email sent... (include forwarded email below current email)
Sometimes calling someone achieves FAR MORE than using email. Why? Because that person is freer to tell you the situation and share suggestions. Email creates a paper trail and if you are working with state/county employees then they will not be at liberty to discuss certain info through email. The drawback to phone calls is you have no paper trail of agreed to actions.
Status of these two markers: When the THC contact called me, I learned that these text revisions will get done eventually. They are on a waiting list after revisions have been submitted that have been paid for to be done.
The one marker I submitted for review had its text carved directly into granite. So, there’s no simple, immediate way to revise the text. The THC temporary change is to have an additional sign or marker that gives context to the racist wording inscribed in stone. Funds may be raised eventually to fully replace that marker.
The other is a metal plaque and the location the change in text occurs at the beginning of the marker. So that change can be made more easily. In the meantime, further research is being done to determine names of explorers who were involved with that historical marker.
Start by contacting your county first: If you would like THC to take a role in these issues beyond its current legal role, then you share that with your state legislators. THC also works with counties who wish to place interpretation alongside certain monuments.
Removing a monument is harder of course: Here’s something I learned in my correspondence with THC. Courthouse grounds and monuments on them are covered by either the State Antiquities Code (if designated) or a more general courthouse preservation law. In both instances, the county government must receive a permit from our agency before they can remove a monument.
Relocating a monument: Working to remove monuments from public areas like courthouses and city sidewalks and relocating them to private spaces like cemeteries or museums or private residences can be helpful work as well. THC is the organization you can work with to achieve that.
Please share any experiences you’ve had with historical markers. Have you attempted to contest one? Have you found one but encountered difficulty in getting the process of revision started? You can use the to filter by state, county, city, etc. to see what is near you or in your state.
I know that this suggested idea does little to address the problems that are underlying racism. I do think that it may be helpful to do this small act, especially given the current climate of legislation in our classrooms challenging what can be discussed and taught about history and current events.
My next project I’ve learned a bit about is research on the US Capitol Statuary Hall Collection. Each state’s government chooses what two monuments to keep or change at the US Capitol. There are several that have been recently changed. Bills passed the House but failed in the Senate – read more here. Read carefully what text is chosen for the statue/bust.
If you can’t change what statue is displayed by your state then you can contact your state to suggest that the text be changed at least? I’ll share more on this project in a future blog.