- By Editorial Board Special to the American-Statesman
Hanging in a hallway of the hallowed Texas Capitol is a plaque of lies.
The plaque, titled “Children of the Confederacy Creed,” and erected in 1959 by the Texas division of the Children of the Confederacy, praises “the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army.”
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.”
Historians have not been shy about acknowledging that Southern states seceded in 1860-61 because they wanted to maintain enslavement of black people and labeling secession a rebellion. The causes for secession are documented in Texas’ Declaration of Causes.
Despite these facts and repeated calls to take it down – most recently from outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus – the plaque still hangs in the People’s House.
Gov. Greg Abbott knows the plaque lies about history; his wingman, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, knows that, too. No doubt, all members of the Texas House and Senate know the plaque – an artifact from a time gone by – is full of falsehoods. Add the State Preservation Board, responsible for maintaining and preserving the Capitol and other state properties, to that list.
It should be an easy call to take it down. Instead many, including Abbott, have passed the buck, saying that the Legislature should decide the plaque’s fate.
The issue has reached Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, with a Democratic lawmaker asking Paxton for an official opinion on who has the authority to move the plaque.
Even if Abbott and Patrick lack such authority, that doesn’t explain why they have not objected to its presence in the Capitol, where it is on display to schoolchildren, families, tourists and others who visit daily. Thankfully, Straus is not dodging the issue.
“We should not try to hide the fact that the Confederacy is part of our history. But in a public space like the Texas Capitol, we should also not promote falsehoods,” he wrote in a July 12 commentary in the American-Statesman.
JOE STRAUS: ‘Plain falsehoods do history no favors.’
The plaque should be moved to a museum, with language explaining its origin, falsehoods and the reasons it was installed in 1959, following major civil rights events that began dismantling segregation in public schools, colleges and universities and public transportation.
Consider that the 1861 Texas Declaration of Causes reads in part: “(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 couldn’t be clearer. Yet only, a small group of lawmakers – about 45 – have been willing to call for the plaque’s removal from the Capitol, as the American-Statesman’s Johnathan Silver recently reported. Abbott, Patrick and most Republican lawmakers, who constitute the majority in the House and Senate, did not respond to the Statesman’s requests for their positions.
They should respond and act. Leaving the plaque in place continues a misguided tradition of selling the Civil War in rosy terms that omit ignoble events in Texas and other Southern states. That only ensures that the vestiges of those past evils linger and fester. Continuing to mythicize past events gives them power to offend in the present, as state Rep. Eric Johnson knows all too well.
The African-American Democrat from Dallas has noted that the plaque is near his Capitol office.
“There is a clear difference between acknowledging historical events and glorifying a distorted version of the past,” Johnson has said. “The Legislature owes it to the people of Texas to remove these false and offensive reinventions of history.”
He is right: It’s time to end such insults.
Abbott and Patrick should consider that their silence puts them on the wrong side of history and current trends.
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Since 2015, when a white gunman killed nine black church members as they attended a weekly Bible study in Charleston, S.C., cities across the country have been removing Confederate symbols, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center report. Texas led the pack, removing more than twice as many as in any other state, tallying 31 of the total 110 Confederate symbols removed.
We’re not advocating destroying historical artifacts. History, both its good and bad, must be embraced in its totality – and not bifurcated to fit a false narrative of how we wished events had happened. History must mirror events as they occurred.
That is why in the face of lies publicly displayed in our Capitol, Abbott, Patrick and other lawmakers have a duty to expose and remove them.