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Between a rock and a hard place Community remains split on Jefferson Davis Highway Memorial relocation

Historic Brownsville Museum Site Manager Eugene Fernandez, representing the Cameron County Historical Commission, speaks last Wednesday in favor of keeping the Jefferson Davis Highway Memorial at Washington Plaza. Robert Benavidez Jr./The Rider

Residents gathered at the Brownsville Event Center Wednesday night to voice their opinions on the relocation of the Jefferson Davis Highway Memorial from Washington Plaza to the Historic Brownsville Museum.

The Jefferson Davis Highway Memorial is a monument dedicated to Jefferson Davis, who served as the president of the Confederate States of America. It was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1926.

As previously reported by The Rider in late September, someone defaced the memorial, located in Washington Plaza, by writing “No Trump,” “No KKK” and “No fascist USA” with red spray paint.

The memorial evoked a range of emotions from the more than 100 people who attended the town hall meeting conducted by the City of Brownsville Parks and Recreation Department.

Attendees included veterans, parents, teachers, high school and university students.

UTRGV criminal justice sophomore Christian Estrada said the memorial should be removed from its current location.

“People die, ideas die,” Estrada said. “I have a feeling that our younger generation will bring a lot of newer, less hateful ideas and we will finally be able to condemn the bad parts of our past.”

In contrast, Historic Brownsville Museum Site Manager Eugene Fernandez spoke on behalf of the Cameron County Historical Commission and proposed that the memorial remain in Washington Plaza.

“This is not a monument for slavery. There is nothing on this that says we are embracing slavery,” Fernandez said. “Now, we have a proposal to change the name ‘Washington Park.’ Washington owned slaves. Do you see how convoluted all of this can get? Let’s keep honor in it, let’s keep dignity and let’s be hopeful that the right decision is made.”   

Teresa Saldivar, a California-born Brownsville resident, also supports the relocation of the monument.

“That rock needs to be relocated to the [Brownsville] Historical Museum,” Saldivar said. “It has no place amongst our U.S. veterans. That would be offensive. They will be rolling in their graves to have a Confederate monument in a U.S. veteran’s place of honor. To even think that is appalling.”  

Later during the meeting, Saldivar abruptly returned to the stand to directly address another speaker, Roberto Uresti, for using the word “haters” to describe the people who dislike the monument.     

Uresti wants to keep the memorial at Washington Plaza. He said that even if it were to be moved, nothing would change and the negativity surrounding it would continue.

 “If you take off the plaque and put it in a museum, nobody will go see it,” Uresti said. “If you take off the plaque and put it in the museum, you can put the rock at my house. But, these haters will go to my house and start stoning my house because they hate that rock.” 

Police officers escorted Saldivar back to her seat.

Despite the residents’ arguments, a decision was not made, and it is not known when the Brownsville City Commission will come to a decision on the monument.

“I think the opinions were pretty well split down the middle, as far as whether or not to remove it completely and put it in the museum versus relocating it to a different park,” said Dillon Vanderford, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. 

The next city commission meeting is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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