Seeking civil discourse amid Confederate pride
Ken Herman, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Published: Monday, Oct. 18, 2010
Descendants of folks who went to war against the United States gathered recently at the Texas Capitol to honor their ancestors.
The South, it seemed, had risen again, at least for an hour, complete with gray-clad soldiers on horseback, two renditions of "Dixie" and a state official joining in this pledge:
"I salute the Confederate flag with affection, reverence and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands," said Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson — right arm outstretched in a palms-up salute that looked like a bellhop seeking a tip — at the Capitol ceremony.
The occasion was Friday’s rededication of the Hood’s Texas Brigade Monument dedicated a century ago to honor Texans who fought for the Confederacy. Everything was authentic, save for when a Confederate soldier’s cell phone rang.
I planned to ask Patterson after the event the requisite questions about honoring the Confederacy. I didn’t have to. Patterson, characteristically, took the topic head-on in his speech.
Here’s some of what he said:
"I suspect tomorrow there’ll be some commentary on the blog or maybe in the print or broadcast media about why are these people here, why are they celebrating this anachronistic event that occurred 150 years ago. Why is it important? Shouldn’t we try to put that aside and forget about it.
"My answer to that is … no, we should not ever banish our history to something that is now described as politically incorrect for discussion," he said, drawing applause.
Patterson is "proud of all Texas history."
"I’m proud that not only did I pass resolutions in the Senate to honor Confederate veterans, I also passed legislation to establish the Juneteenth Commission that will soon hopefully result in a Juneteenth monument here at the Capitol. I can take pride in being a Texan and in being in the place where Juneteenth occurred. I’m not black, but I can still take pride in that event. … I can take pride in the fact that Texas history abounds with accounts of Tejanos — eight of whom with Hispanic surnames died at the Alamo.
"I can take pride in all of that because that is our shared common heritage that makes us uniquely Texan," Patterson said.
He also said "there was no greater, more noble man in American history than Gen. Robert E. Lee." Patterson said Abraham Lincoln — "a great man" — was more interested in preserving the union than freeing the slaves.
More: "I think the Buffalo Soldiers — the black soldiers of the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry that served on the frontier in the 1870s and 1880s fighting the Indians — I think they were heroes, too. … We also need a Buffalo Soldiers monument here.
"But now let’s look at that closely. If you want to apply the same standard, what did the Buffalo Soldiers do? You could say that they participated in a genocidal war against an entire race of people, the American plains Indians, if you wanted to deride their service. But I do not. They served their country. … And they should be honored, " Patterson said.
Provocative, but does any of it justify tributes to people who took up arms to defend their right to hold slaves? (Yes, I’m aware the Civil War was more complicated than that.) As a guy near the event told me, the NAACP should have sent other people in period costume — blacks in chains.
It’s hard for us to see through other people’s eyes and history. Do blacks react to Confederate uniforms as I react to Nazi uniforms?
There is, of course, a difference. The Nazis came from without, not from within. Texans were confederates. Few Texans, I believe, fought with the Nazis.
Today’s obvious point: War is cruel, but a civil war offers a special cruelty. A century and a half later, America’s Civil War remains America’s bloodiest war and, at times, it is tough for us to be civil when talking about it.