Column: Confederate license plates honor history
Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 12:27 pm
“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
A request by The Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor their forefather’s service with a Texas license plate is a simple fund-raising effort by a historical association with a long history of civic involvement.
Race-baiting and politics, however, seem to play more of a role in the coverage of this issue than the actual facts of the matter. This weeks’ 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling supporting free speech and ending the state’s denial of their request reveals what happens when such inflammation is replaced by thoughtful examination. The ruling is a win for a common sense.
To begin, The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a private nonprofit established in 1896, is requesting to pay for a license plate displaying their logo and their name. The logo contains the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commonly known as the Confederate battle flag. The SCV would pay the State of Texas $8,000 for the right to have a plate then recoup costs with each plate sold.
I am a member of the SCV; my great-grandfather James Monroe Cole served in the Louisiana Infantry during the War, died in the Texas Confederate Veterans Home and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery here in Austin.
As a statewide elected official, I sponsored the plate because of 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 their heritage with a license plate that displays their logo and their name.
Both plates represent private organizations proud of their history. Both are symbols for service to the state of Texas. 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 and served with great distinction in Texas. Many were recipients of the National Medal of Honor.
But an examination of the Buffalo Soldiers actions could also be deemed insensitive and politically incorrect. They were sent to Texas to implement a national policy of subjugation and enslavement of the Native American population, which is exactly what they did. They implemented a national policy forcing 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.
Viewed through our 21st century lens of political correctness, both the Buffalo and Confederate soldiers could be considered by some as having fought for a cause that fell short of the high moral ground. In the end, offensive behavior can be found throughout history if you’re looking to be offended.
Detractors often contend the Confederates’ effort to “destroy the union” or wage an “unlawful rebellion” are prima facie reasons why all things Confederate are just not worth memorializing. By that logic our unlawful revolt against King George, the “unlawful” secession by Mexico from Spain in 1810 and the “unlawful” secession by Texas from Mexico in 1836 also shouldn’t be celebrated today.
There is no statutory protection against being offended. Actually, it’s the privilege of every American to be offended. But that shouldn’t interfere with our willingness to understand the past in its own context, not from our present perspective.
For example, President Abraham Lincoln reveals himself to be what we would now consider a racist in the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate in Charleston, Illinois. “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negros, nor qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people,” Lincoln said.
And for those who believe every Confederate soldier was fighting solely 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 before the Civil War 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 was re-elected to a third term as Texas Land Commissioner in 2010 and is responsible for managing billions of dollars of state assets, investments and mineral rights on behalf of the schoolchildren of Texas. He is a retired U.S. Marine, Vietnam veteran and former state senator.