Travis County Commissioners Court
June 14, 2005
Item number 12 is consider and take appropriate action on recommendation from the Travis County historical commission on naming the Travis County courthouse. Ms. Bettis is headed this way and hopefully ms. Hankins. Ms. Bettis here? I知 sure she is headed this way. Ms. Hankins, how are you doing?
>> just fine, thank you.
>> why don't we cover the commission's report.
>> thank you. Commissioners and judge Biscoe, the Travis County historical commission met on June 1st to consider your request that we make a recommendation concerning the name of the Travis County courthouse. A public hearing was held at which all who wished to speak were heard. Members of the commission discussed the issues thoroughly and voted to recommend that you retain the current name of the courthouse and to ask that the Travis County Commissioners court honor the people nominated and other people who have made significant contributions to Travis County in some other manner. An agreed upon suggestion was the placing of plaques honoring such people on the walls of the interior of the courthouse. In the case of mr. Heman sweatt, it was suggested it would be most appropriate to name the courtroom in which the trial was held the heman sweatt courtroom. It might also be appropriate to honor him in some other way. A significant majority of the historical commission members believe that there are certain buildings such as the courthouse whose names should be as inclusive as possible and to represent all of the people in the jurisdiction. Other examples mentioned were the white house, the u.s. Capitol, the Texas capitol and various city halls. We would point out that only one other county courthouse in Texas is named for an individual, and I would like to point out here that contrary to press reports, the problem was not that the Commissioners were unable to agree on naming the building for a person, but the question was whether the building should be named for anyone. And the -- and that was really what the discussion centered about. The members of the commission would be happy to assist you for developing a plan for honoring outstanding contributors to Travis County history and in assisting those who nominate such citizens with the necessary outreach and research.
>> questions? Comments? I want to thank you and the commission for its work.
>> thank you.
>> thank you.
>> we appreciate it. This is the second or third time we've called on you all and we appreciate your prompt attention and action.
>> thank you, sir.
>> alicia, anything from you?
>> I move that we formally receive the report just to receive it.
>> discussion? All in favor?
>> judge, I知 not -- I知 sorry.
>> that passes by unanimous vote. Commissioner Davis.
>> yes, I know that we've heard a lot of testimony from the public and we have had this before on several occasions, we have heard several comments. And again, I would like to thank not only the Travis County staff but also the Travis County historical commission. I would like to thank the residents that are come before this Commissioners court as we've gone through this process. And again, with those particular thank yous in order, I would like to make a motion at this time on this particular item. And I move that we select the name heman marion sweatt for the Travis County courthouse, that's the old Travis County courthouse, at 1900 guadalupe street -- 1000 guadalupe street in Austin, Travis County, Texas. So I would like to put that in the form of a motion and hope we move forward and deal with this particular request.
>> I would like to second that motion. I've given this enormous amount of thought and i've certainly listened to everyone who had a presentation to make. And for me, I came down to the fact that education is the great equalizer. My own research during the past year as I was working on my master's degree was to cover the importance of communities of color who know -- to know their history because of the fact that we are all human beings. The other reason is that all of us as human beings are connected because issues of importance bring us together. And civil rights certainly is one of those important issues. The heman sweatt case was built upon an earlier case of mendez versus westminster school district of orange county, california, which segregated students by last names. Thurgood marshall represented the mendez family so the two communities of color have worked together in the past. I think we need to work together again now and in the future. That case was ruled unconstitutional. That case emphasized what we all know today, that if we treat people as inferiors, they will perform in an inferior manner. Spanish speaking children are not retarded and do not belong in special education classes. Rather society needs to expand its ability to learn more. After that, a civil rights case was carried out at the Travis County courthouse. Which I think is the main reason that we need to honor the naming of the courthouse. It helped this community to get on the path to greater justice for all. And as I was doing some reading, I was -- I recalled that one of my favorite people, eleanor roosevelt, reminded us that all human right are local. And another favorite writer, booker t. Washington, said we are all in this country when one race is strong, the other is strong. When one race is weak, the other is weak. There is no power that can separate our destiny. No race the wrong another race simply because it has the power to do so. Without being permanently injured in its own morals. So I believe that our human race is strong enough and educated enough to want to recognize how far we have come, and we have. We just have a little bit longer to go. I vote aye to naming the Travis County courthouse after heman sweatt. And I also -- yes, sir. But I also want us to look at that courthouse as an historical building, and I think because of that I think we can have a lot of historical exhibits that will show the history and history is very important and we don't seem to be -- we seem to be for getting our history. And we just cannot forget our history or we will repeat the errors of the past. And so I would like to see that building become an historical building which will exhibit historical exhibits but show the history of the people in Texas and in this part of the country.
>> my substitute motion is to not name the courthouse after anybody.
>> I second that.
>> discussion of the substitute motion? All in favor? Show Commissioner Daugherty and judge Biscoe. The original motion is to name the courthouse after heman sweatt. Any more discuss? Questions.
>> well, I feel obliged to say something science I co-sponsored this with Commissioner Davis and I remember having the discussion that I was supportive of doing this but I did not want to thing to become controversial. I mean I think that I have shown my support of mr. Sweatt. I mean we did have an honoring of mr. Sweatt a couple of months ago over at the courthouse. I was happy to do that. I do -- you know, again, I find myself in a position where, okay, if I知 not going to do this, then what do people think about that. I mean obviously what we've got here is a situation where there are a number of people that are -- that, you know, that should be and could be, you know, honored. The unfortunate thing is to do something with one person over another, does that mean that you are defaming another person? No, I don't think that it does. But it does put knew a spot where you recognize that as on osed to hurting anybody's feeling, and it would be one thing if we had not honored mr. Sweatt, and I think it's a great idea coming from the commission, barbara, with regards to finding courtrooms and finding other places to do these kind of things. But it is unfortunate that we are going to choose sides on who we're going to support versus someone else. And for that reason that's the reason that I have backed away from naming it anything or keeping it -- or making it anything other than what it's called now which is the Travis County courthouse. I just want people to know where I come from on that, but I知 ready to --
>> if -- hang on. Everybody has had their piece in terms of being able to explain why they are going to vote and I would like to have that same consideration. I think sometimes too we are for getting how this all came about. And this was not really the same kind of situation like naming a building or park or road. This really all came about as we had discussions related to how do we go about marking whether it was intended or not an historical event that happened to occur on Travis County property. And that was a turning point in the civil rights movement. And it's interesting to note that the original Travis County courthouse, when it was built, housed both civil and criminal courts. And when the criminal courts moved out because of space kr-gsz, nobody raised it was moving out into a building that had a name on it. It was the gault building. And when that out lived it's use, we had a lot of people coming forward and saying we need to put those criminal courts in a building that we will put a name on and name it after two very distinguished jurists in our midst, judge blackwell and judge thurman. Our civil courts have the name of two very distinguished judges on it as well. Judge gardener and judge betz. In many counties, their original courthouses get abandoned and turned over to uses. In dallas it's now a records place. That building across the street is not going to stay our civil courthouse forever. I do believe at some point we will be building a new civil courthouse, and if people believe in the purity of having the courthouse called the courthouse, let's not put a name on that one, but I am ready to move ahead on heman sweatt and it is because it is the recognition of a hill country event that occurred there -- an historical event that occurred there involving mr. Sweatt. And finally, I don't think putting his name on that building takes away at all from the very marvelous legacy that I enjoyed hearing about from the eanes and the marshall families. Certainly sheriff lang, and of course judge matthews. All of these folks have very proud histories that ought to be celebrated, and some of them have been in terms of streets and other kinds of things going on within our community. So I don't see this one of having to pick sides. Those folks actually don't need a building named after them to be fine, honored citizens in this community. So I will be joining my colleagues, Commissioner Davis and Commissioner Gomez, in voting for the renaming in honor of an historical event that occurred there.
>> all in favor of Commissioner Davis' motion to name it after heman sweatt. Show Commissioners Gomez, Davis, Sonleitner and yours truly in favor. Voting against Commissioner Daugherty.
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Last Modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2005 8:10 PM