Sunday, July 10, 2011

Patterson Defends SCV Plates in Texas

Confederate veterans and Buffalo Soldiers both have their detractors
Saturday, July. 02, 2011
Jerry Patterson

Special to the Star-Telegram

"I'll not willingly offend, Nor be easily offended; What's amiss I'll strive to mend, And endure what can't be mended." -- Isaac Watts

In his Wednesday column, Bob Ray Sanders began with a quote -- of himself -- so I took the liberty of doing the same. Since I've never said anything worth quoting, I instead used this quote, which sums up much of the debate over symbols on license plates: Being offended is often the responsibility of the person offended, not the offender.

I want to commend Sanders on a well-written commentary that framed his opinion without relying on the kind of tired, race-baiting rhetoric regurgitated by the NAACP's Gary Bledsoe. (See: "What's heroic to one person is offensive to another") This issue would be well-served with more examination and less inflammation.

To begin, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a private nonprofit established in 1896, is requesting to pay for a license plate displaying its logo and name. The plate would be primarily for SCV members but would be available to all Texans. The logo does include the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commonly known as the Confederate battle flag. If approved, the SCV would pay the state $8,000 for the right to have a plate, then recoup costs with each plate sold.

I am proudly a member of the SCV; my great-grandfather James Monroe Cole served in the Louisiana Infantry during the War, died in the Confederate Veterans Home and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

As a statewide elected official, I sponsored the plate because of my personal heritage and my commitment to Texas history -- even the history others might find offensive.

It's the same reason I sponsored a license plate to honor the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, another private, nonprofit organization interested in marketing its heritage with a license plate that displays its logo and name.

Both plates represent private organizations proud of their history. Both are symbols for larger ideas. But political correctness has warped perception of those ideas.

I am proud to support the Buffalo Soldiers license plate because these black troops deployed to the Western frontier after the Civil War served with great distinction in Texas. They included many early black recipients of the Medal of Honor.

But an examination of the Buffalo Soldiers' actions could easily offend anyone familiar with history. They were sent to Texas on a mission to subjugate and enslave the American Indian population, which is exactly what they did. Their fierce determination forced Indians into reservations to live essentially as prisoners of war held by the U.S. government.

Is this a history of which we should be proud? Should these soldiers be commemorated on a license plate?

Of course they should. The Buffalo Soldier license plate, just like the Confederate plate, is intended to honor soldiers who served with pride and dignity in defense of Texas. That's all.

In the end, offensive behavior can be found throughout history if you're looking to be offended.

There is no statutory protection against being offended. Actually, it's the privilege of every American to be offended.

And for those who believe every Confederate soldier was fighting to perpetuate slavery, I'll end with the quote of one of the greatest Americans of all time.

"There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age," wrote Robert E. Lee while stationed in Texas in 1856, "who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. ... We see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers."

Jerry Patterson is commissioner of the Texas General Land Office.

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