By STEFAN MODRICH
The Jaybird Monument in Richmond will soon have a new home.
The Fort Bend County Commissioners Court on Tuesday voted to unanimously approve an agreement with the City of Richmond to relocate the long-standing monument in honor of the Jaybirds, the former local political group with a history of racism and discrimination. The agreement entails the county funding the dismantling, transporting and reconstruction of the monument to Hodges Bend Cemetery in Sugar Land.
The cemetery also would be responsible for maintaining the monument.
Fort Bend County Precinct 1 Commissioner Vincent Morales could not be reached for comment.
The Richmond City Commission already had approved an agreement with the county for the monument, which was erected on what was then the site of the Fort Bend County courthouse in 1896.
State Rep. Ron Reynolds of House District 27, which includes Meadows Place, Missouri City, Stafford and part of Houston, said he commended all of the community members who helped bring awareness to the monument’s significance and organized to voice their concerns about its visibility in the public square. He has been an advocate for the removal of the monument from its current location next to Richmond City Hall, the former site of the county courthouse.
“I’m eager, I’m pleased, to see the monument come down and be relocated,” Reynolds added. “I think that Fort Bend is on the right side of history by doing so.”
He said the relocation can be an opportunity to educate future generations about the Jaybird and Woodpecker parties and that a museum exhibit would be a proper way to provide historical context about the violent, forcible removal of freely elected Woodpeckers in a series of battles that resulted in seven deaths.
During the post-Civil War reconstruction era, many African-American men who were newly-freed slaves voted for the first time. As a result, 44 African-American men held positions of power in Fort Bend County between 1869 and 1889.
The Jaybirds seized control of the county after then-Governor Sul Ross declared martial law and dispatched the Houston Light Guards and Texas Rangers to Richmond. The Woodpeckers were pressured to resign, and the newly-installed Jaybirds disenfranchised African-American voters, utilizing white-only primaries until the practice was banned in 1953.
“My suggestion would be a museum, and you could give a proper historical perspective, not the false narrative that’s there in terms of ‘Our Heroes’ but in terms of what they represented in terms of actual history,” Reynolds said. “So that history is not repeated.”
Tres Davis, a longtime Richmond resident and former teacher who has run for mayor and twice ran for city commissioner, said he was disappointed the city took so long to act.
He said the movement to remove the monument began in earnest four years ago, but had begun to gather momentum back in June.
“I do think it was ridiculous that we did a petition, got over 6,000 signatures that said it should be removed or destroyed, and then they didn’t respect that,” Davis said. “So they had an ad hoc committee, that ad hoc committee did a survey, and that survey came back saying that the monument should be removed. They still didn’t want to do it. Then they formed another ad hoc committee, and they came to the understanding that it should be moved.
“So I’m not going to give them credit for something that they knew they should have done a long time ago. After all the press and all the work and everything, they still tried to slow walk it. I’m glad it’s being moved, but I’m not going to act like they did it out of the goodness of their hearts for the residents and the women and minorities that were discriminated against by the Jaybirds.”
Davis said there are still remnants of discrimination that remain long after the abolition of Jim Crow laws under former longtime mayor Hilmar Moore, and his wife Evalyn Moore, who was appointed mayor after her husband’s death in 2012.
A 2008 Houston Chronicle article said the former mayor, who was one of the longest-serving in the U.S., evolved in his views on race and persuaded restaurant owners in town to integrate.
Evalyn Moore is running for re-election against Andre Robinson Sr. and Rebecca Kennelly Haas.
“You have 70- or 80-year-old families who have never had any mayor without the last name Moore,” Davis said. “If you’re living in Richmond, your kids, you, your parents and your grandparents could all be living right now and they’ve never had anybody without the last name Moore as their mayor.”
Davis said many residents have been afraid to speak up about the city’s checkered racial past, enabling the monument to endure well beyond how long he believes it should have.
“Richmond thrives on being a place where hate and racial prejudices will not be tolerated,” an Oct. 20 news release from the city read. “The City seeks to preserve the history of the community while being sensitive to all members of the community.”