By Jacquielynn Floyd, Metro columnist
Give or take a few rifle-totin’ Johnny Rebs and obelisks inscribed with bad poetry, there are an estimated 180 tributes and memorials in this state to the Confederacy and its combatants. It’s unrealistic to suppose we’re going to scrub them all off the landscape by lunchtime Tuesday.
Counties and towns named for largely forgotten CSA generals are in no hurry to change their names. Tributes to dead soldiers, including my own ancestors, in sleepy wayside cemeteries probably aren’t doing any harm.
Texas-wise, Dallas has been in the forefront of the enlightened move to reconsider what amounts to public tributes to such controversial historical figures as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Deciding what do with them, of course, poses a fresh headache, but I’m confident the city will find a reasonable if not universally popular solution.
What is not reasonable, however, is the continued presence of a commemorative plaque in our state Capitol building that legislators, lobbyists and tourists have blithely passed by tens of thousands of times.
Among all the innocuous paintings and statues and memorial bric-a-brac decorating the Capitol, this item stands in glaring relief, because it promulgates a monstrous lie.
The plaque, mounted in a side corridor, is a two-paragraph statement titled “Children of the Confederacy Creed.” It states, in part, that the “War Between the States” — even now in some apologist circles the preferred term for the Civil War — “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”
These are two spectacular falsehoods, the twin pillars of the long-discredited “Lost Cause” replastering of historical reality. Our state Capitol might as well have a “whites only” water fountain on public view.
The marker was installed in 1959, timing that suggests it was a deliberate slap at the emerging civil-rights movement. Its continued presence is an insult to visitors of all races, to reputable historians, to those of us who love Texas.
The plaque itself is less representative of 19th-century ideology than it is “a reflection of 1959,” University of Texas professor Walter Buenger, who heads the Texas State Historical Association, said in an interview with an Austin television station.
“It most likely reflects something about resistance to Brown v. Board of Education and the end of a Jim Crow system,” Buenger said.
Some African-American state legislators, including Dallas’ Eric Johnson, have called for the plaque’s removal for months, along with other public memorials to the Confederacy on Capitol grounds.
Their efforts gained momentum this week when Republican House Speaker Joe Straus petitioned the State Preservation Board to start taking steps to get rid of this embarrassment.
His letter to the board, posted on Facebook, said in part: “[I]t is important that the historical information displayed on the Capitol grounds is accurate and appropriate … Texans are not well-served by incorrect information about our history.”
No, they are not. This marker should be Exhibit A for the vocal crowd complaining that review of Confederate memorials is an effort to “erase history.”
Because endorsing the bogus narrative that the Civil War was not waged to maintain the enslavement of African-Americans, or that it was anything other than a sectional rebellion, represents a cumulative effort to “erase history” on a scale worthy of the busiest Soviet-era airbrushing bureau.
This is not a matter of opinion; it’s a matter of established fact, stated with antebellum zeal by the seceding states and their leaders themselves. A hundreds years’ worth of revisionist twaddle about “states’ rights” and “tariffs” do not alter what their words mean.
“It is long past time to put to rest the myth that secession and the Civil War turned on states’ rights and to recognize the contradiction at the heart of the Confederacy’s approach to this issue,” writes author and historian Allan J. Lichtman, summarizing the overwhelming historical consensus. “Within a federal system, certain powers and responsibilities are delegated to the states, but not at the expense of people’s rights and liberties.”
If we still have trouble accepting the historical truth, maybe it’s because we still struggle with the underlying precept even now.
The “Children of the Confederacy” group still exists; it’s a kind of youth auxiliary to the genealogy-and-heritage group United Daughters of the Confederacy.
I don’t have any particular quarrel with these groups; I’d qualify for membership, if I wanted to join and they’d have me. And I think it’s unfair to indiscriminately lump them together with unapologetic racist and white supremacist organizations.
But if they want to legitimize their insistence that they represent “heritage, not hate,” then they ought to join the effort to get rid of this embarrassing anachronism.
If there are Confederate memorials that are just as well left alone, as many people argue, then there are also those that should have been removed years ago — that never should have been installed in the first place.
Time to get the wheels turning on permanently getting rid of this thing. In the meantime, perhaps they might cover it up with a board or a curtain or a nice painting of live oaks and bluebonnets.
Because that plaque is a lie. It embarrasses all of us.