Dallas mayor and City Council sued for prohibiting removal of Confederate leaders’ names from city streets

The Dallas City Council passed a resolution in April 2018 asserting that streets honoring Confederate generals and other leaders may not be renamed. Anticipating the Council’s action, the Commemoration Committee to Honor Marvin Crenshaw and Roy Williams — two well-known local civil rights activists — sued the city government for violating its members’ First Amendment rights to free political speech.

Key Players

The Dallas City Council passed, on April 25, 2018, a resolution that said Dallas streets “with names linked to the Confederacy shall not be renamed.” Months earlier, in September 2017, the city’s Task Force on Confederate Monuments, commissioned by Mayor Michael S. Rawlings to determine whether the city should remove, replace, or relocate the Confederate monuments throughout Dallas, had recommended that street names recognizing “a Confederate leader and/or general, who made a significant contribution to the Confederacy” should be changed within 90 days of its report. It specifically cited streets named after Richard M. Gano, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, P.G.T. Beauregard, and William L. Cabell. As of May 31, 2018 — 244 days after the task force released its recommendation — streets named for those Confederate figures still existed in Dallas. 

The Commemoration Committee to Honor Marvin Crenshaw and Roy Williams is a group of Dallas citizens who sued the city government for violating their First Amendment rights and who advocated for changing the name of Marilla Street in Dallas to M.E. Crenshaw Boulevard. 

Further Details

On April 24, 2018, the Commemoration Committee filed a lawsuit against the members of the Dallas City Council and the mayor in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The request claimed that Article 34(2) of the City Council’s agenda for its April 25 meeting, if passed, would violate the committee members’ First Amendment rights to political speech by preventing them from participating in the established process to rename a street. Article 34(2) mandated that “streets with names linked to the Confederacy shall not be renamed.” 

The Committee had been engaged since February 2018 in an effort to have Marilla Street, on which Dallas City Hall is currently located, renamed. While Marilla is not one of the names listed by the Task Force on Confederate Monuments, the committee explained in an online petition dated Feb. 17, 2018, that the name refers to the mother of Reverend William Ceiton Young, who was a chaplain for the Confederate army. Young served under Brigadier General W.L. Cabell for the Arkansas Cavalry and the 29th Texas Cavalry Regiment. Cabell led these cavalries during the Battle of Poison Springs, after which Confederate forces massacred wounded black soldiers and desecrated many of their corpses.

The petition urges Dallas citizens to refuse to honor anyone, including Young, who participated in these “war crimes.” The committee’s research also revealed that Young was engaged in anti-Reconstruction efforts in Dallas after the conclusion of the Civil War. Members of the committee had presented their research about the history of Marilla Street to the mayor and the City Council at a Council meeting April 11, 2018. 

In the lawsuit, the committee argued that its work to rename the street was organized political activity and that the Council’s vote would create a protected class of streets named after Confederate figures that abridges certain citizens’ right to Free Speech. The suit claimed that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, and those of all African Americans, would be violated if they were forced to use streets with names that are offensive and oppressive to them. It said the City Council resolution was equal to “content-based unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech.”

According to D Magazine, the committee commented ahead of the City Council meeting, “The resolution, which is widely expected to pass, chills the Plaintiff’s political speech by disallowing any meaningful participation in the established process to rename a street. The omission of such rights is tantamount to official oppression.”


Dallas City Council approves resolution prohibiting the renaming of Confederate street names

The Dallas City Council approved the resolution by a 10-5 vote April 25, 2018. However, as Councilmember Philip Kingston told D Magazine, the decision may only be a temporary one. “[I]t is legally meaningless,” he said. “We can’t bind future councils.” 

Texas Senate passes bill to make it more difficult to remove Confederate, other historical monuments

The Dallas Morning News reported that the Texas Senate on May 7, 2019 passed a bill that would make it more difficult to remove Confederate and other historical monuments. 

Currently, city councils and county officials can vote to remove local historical monuments, as they have recently in the city of Dallas. The new bill would require two-thirds of these local governing bodies to approve the removal, relocation or alteration of any historical monument, or name change of any street, bridge, park or area, in place for longer than 25 years.