It’s time for truth to re­place Con­fed­er­ate lie on plaque

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - VIEWPOINTS - Al­berta Phillips Com­men­tary

In 1965, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., speak­ing to a crowd of about 25,000 that had marched from Selma to Mont­gomery, Ala., in sup­port of vot­ing rights for black peo­ple, said, “Some­body’s ask­ing, ‘How long will prej­u­dice blind the vi­sions of men, darken their un­der­stand­ing, and drive bright-eyed wis­dom from her sa­cred throne?

“How long? Not long. Be­cause no lie can live for­ever.”

We are wit­ness­ing the truth of that state­ment as we watch the un­rav­el­ing of a pow­er­ful, long­stand­ing lie re­gard­ing the Civil War and the tributes erected to sus­tain and per­pet­u­ate that de­cep­tion.

The big ques­tion is whether Gov. Greg Ab­bott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other top Texas lead­ers will con­tinue de­fend­ing such men­dac­ity or yield to the truth?

That is the is­sue be­fore them as the fate of a metal plaque in the Capitol, ti­tled “Chil­dren of the Con­fed­er­acy Creed,” is de­bated. The plaque ex­alts sol­diers who fought for the South dur­ing the Civil War and retells his­tory by stat­ing that the South­ern states didn’t rebel and that slav­ery wasn’t at the root of the con­flict.

It’s hardly a co­in­ci­dence that the plaque was erected in 1959 by the Texas di­vi­sion of the Chil­dren of the Con­fed­er­acy.

That is after Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion; after Rosa Parks re­fused to give up her seat to a white pas­sen­ger on a bus; and after Em­mett Till, a 14-year-old African-American, was bru­tally beaten, shot to death and dis­carded in a river by white men in Mis­sis­sippi for al­legedly whistling at a white wo­man.

Against the back­drop of the Civil Rights Move­ment, the plaque seems more an act of de­fi­ance than def­er­ence.

It states: “We, there­fore, pledge our­selves to pre­serve pure ideals, to honor our veter­ans, to study and teach 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) and to al­ways act in a man­ner that will re­flect honor upon our noble and pa­tri­otic ances­tors.”

That is a lie that fi­nally is crum­bling.

We know the plaque’s state­ments are false be­cause the Texas Dec­la­ra­tion of Causes tells us the truth about why the Lone Star State se­ceded in words writ­ten in 1861, not nearly 100 years later in 1959.

“(Texas) was re­ceived as a com­mon­wealth hold­ing, main­tain­ing and pro­tect­ing the in­sti­tu­tion known as ne­gro slav­ery — the servi­tude of the African to the white race within her lim­its — a re­la­tion that had ex­isted from the first set­tle­ment of her wilder­ness by the white race, and which her peo­ple in­tended should ex­ist in all fu­ture time,” the dec­la­ra­tion states.

Not­ing the plaque’s in­ac­cu­ra­cies, state Rep. Eric John­son, D-Dal­las, who is African-American, asked the State Preser­va­tion Board to take it down. The plaque, he said, is 40 steps from his Capitol of­fice.

“There is a clear dif­fer­ence be­tween ac­knowl­edg­ing his­tor­i­cal events and glo­ri­fy­ing a dis­torted ver­sion of the past. The Leg­is­la­ture owes it to the peo­ple of Texas to re­move th­ese false and of­fen­sive rein­ven­tions of his­tory,” John­son said.

Oth­ers, too, have called out the lie and are press­ing for the plaque’s re­moval, in­clud­ing state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San An­to­nio, who sits on the Preser­va­tion Board along with Ab­bott, Patrick and a few other law­mak­ers.

“The plaque says that the Civil War was not an act of re­bel­lion and was not pri­mar­ily about slav­ery,” Straus said in a let­ter to the Preser­va­tion Board. “This is not ac­cu­rate, and Tex­ans are not well-served by in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion about our his­tory.”

Straus showed courage in de­bunk­ing a lie that long has fu­eled Texas lore paint­ing se­ces­sion and the Civil War as some­thing hon­or­able.

The truth — that Texas fought to main­tain its en­slave­ment of black peo­ple — doesn’t fit that bill. But a made-up story in which in­de­pen­dent, boot-strap­ping Tex­ans fought to pre­serve states’ rights against a med­dling fed­eral govern­ment — now that was noble.

It was a lie that took root and spread. To­day, it’s all around us — on the hal­lowed grounds of the Texas Capitol, with a dozen or so stat­ues glo­ri­fy­ing the Con­fed­er­acy and its “he­roes.”

The lies are found on street names in Austin, such as Robert E. Lee and Jef­fer­son Davis, and school build­ings; in our chil­dren’s text­books; and on our court­houses and state of­fices.

So far, Ab­bott, Patrick and other top lead­ers have dodged the is­sue, hop­ing like a fever, it will pass.

It won’t. As King said: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again. Be­cause no lie can live for­ever.”

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