Austin Mayor Steve Adler is being slammed for his decision not to participate in last Saturday’s Veterans Day Parade. That criticism from Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and many others took aim at the wrong target.
Adler made a moral decision. It was the parade committee that goofed up badly with a decision that demeans the dignity of African-American veterans and families. Adler rightly bowed out after learning that the Austin Veterans Day Parade committee decided to allow the Confederate States flag to be flown in the event.
Imagine that. The flag of an entity — the Confederacy — that fought to overthrow the U.S. government so southern states could continue enslaving black people was flying right up there with Old Glory in a procession along Congress Avenue.
“I’ve seen the pain that is caused in so many with symbols of the Confederacy,” Adler said. “And I think it’s important that (the Confederacy) not be erased or removed from our past… but not celebrated and cheered in a parade.”
Before and after the parade, Adler said he received criticism — and thankfully support. The high-profile Williamson County sheriff took aim on Twitter the night before the parade.
“Shame on you @MayorAdler!” Chody wrote. “As a veteran I’m offended you would allow a small group dictate the true meaning of the intent of the parade.”
Chody explained his tweet stemmed from his military experience, having served in the Army for four years and in the Army National Guard another four years.
“I think it was political correctness that the leader of Austin has chosen … and letting a small group of people dictate the true honor and respect the veterans deserve, ” he said.
I respect Chody’s service to our country and indeed the service of all veterans, including my grandfather Felder Harrison, a cook in World War I; his deceased son, Felder Jr. in World War II; his daughter Gertrude Harrison Smith, also in WWII; and my dearly beloved deceased father, Grover C. Phillips, wounded by shrapnel in WWII.
Frankly, Chody is out of touch on this topic.
African-Americans have fought for the United States in every war, including the American Revolution. Their patriotism is seen in the likes of Crispus Attucks, considered the first American martyr of that war. Freed and enslaved blacks served under the command of then-General George Washington. Historians estimate that 10 percent to 15 percent of soldiers who served in the Revolution were black.
Imagine that. Fighting for the liberty of a country that forced them into bondage. That black veterans would participate in a parade despite the presence of an offensive flag speaks to their love for country, despite its flaws.
To its credit, the parade committee banned the controversial Battle Flag with the X-pattern, which other than the swastika has become the most recognizable symbol of white supremacists and hate groups. Nonetheless, Confederate groups still cling to it as a symbol of Southern heritage.
They sought to fly it in the Austin Veterans Day Parade but were overruled by the committee, said Jim Darwin, who chairs the panel. He told me that the committee decided to allow the lesser-known national flag of the Confederate States to be flown, saying that many people don’t recognize or associate it with the Confederacy.
Adler said he got criticism from people locally and across the nation who, like Chody, said he missed the larger point of participating in the parade: to honor all veterans.
They are missing the point, just as the parade committee did.
The flag was the one that flew over the Confederacy, which included Texas, when Texas wrote its Declaration of Causes. There is no mistaking its message or symbolism:
“(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.
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations.”
Darwin noted that the Confederate flag his committee OK’d flies over the Bullock Texas State History Museum. It also flies over the state archives. As depositories of history, that is appropriate.
Flying it in the city’s veterans parade, knowing its racist past, is hurtful and wrong.