"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


the land of cotton

This is who governs our state.

Last fall after hearing Barack Obama speak at the capitol, I found myself face to face with this: It's on the ground floor, behind a staircase, and you wouldn't be likely to notice it. I've been in the capitol many, many times and have never noticed it before. I was pleasantly surprised to read about it at the end of Paul Burka's essay on the capitol in the new Texas Monthly. One of the things he points out is that the Children of the Confederacy didn't place this plaque until 1959. It's not like it's a historical artifact of Texas' days as a Confederate state. Just in case you can't read it, here's one particularly appalling phrase: "...the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the War Between the States was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery..."

I saw this plaque, read it, and stared. A state trooper walked by. He didn't even blink.

Now, look, I don't understand it, but I don't have a problem with people who feel a need to join the Daughters of the Confederacy or to reenact Civil War battles or whatever. Some of them are crazy (read this to learn much, much more). I do have a problem with people who revere the Confederacy and use their, um, patriotism as a cover-up for very real racism. But as long as you're not doing that, hey, whatever. My ancestors were Confederates. (145 years ago. It's history.) But if you want to fly the Stars & Bars off the gun rack of your import mini-truck, by all means, go ahead.

What's appalling about both the stance of our Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, and the COC display in the capitol is that both involve public affairs. The COC plaque is disturbing because it's historically inaccurate; while the Civil War may have been about states' rights, the reason states' rights was such a concern in the first place was slavery. And if it wasn't a rebellion, why were the soldiers (and countless athletic teams thereafter) known as Rebels? The war may be part of Texas' history. A monument that remembers that is fine. One that distorts history, and is therefore quite offensive to a huge number of Texans, is not.

I have two problems with the Land Commissoner's: one, his stance in the op-ed piece promotes a gross distortion of history. Again, every direct and proximate cause of the Civil War was related to the issue of slavery in one way or another. The South's obsessive concern with states' rights was always (from the Revolutionary War forward) rooted in their concern to preserve the Southern economy, which required slave labor.

(The fact that the Land Commissioner roots his argument in bad logic and faulty reasoning is also offensive, but perhaps that's a personal problem.)

My other problem with the Land Commissioner's actions is that he seems not to even question whether accepting a token donation from a controversial group to fund a public program is appropriate. It doesn't bother me that a few more documents will be preserved; history is history. But promoting bad history isn't what the Land Commissioner was elected to do. He wasn't elected to represent the views of a minority of white Texans, or East Texans, or the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He was elected to serve every Texan, black or white, rich or poor, sixth-generation or newly arrived immigrant. Is it right to accept money from a group that many Texans consider offensive? Did he at least think about it first?


Blogger UPennBen said...

The Cause is Lost! Lost!

Thursday, February 01, 2007 8:24:00 PM


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