In Texas, Even the Lies about the Confederacy Are Bigger

Republican House Speaker Joe Straus is calling for the removal of this marker, which was installed by the Texas Division, Children of the Confederacy, in the state Capitol in 1959, on the eve of the centennial. It makes a pretty bold claim about the role of slavery in causing secession and war.

Texas is no stranger to controversies about how history is taught and efforts to shape history textbooks to fit the political agendas of various school boards. In this case all one has to do is look to the states own Declaration of Causes, which propelled the state to leave the union in February 1861. This link will take you to the Texas State Archives and Commission website [a .gov site]. Here is a taste:

For years past this abolition organization has been actively sowing the seeds of discord through the Union, and has rendered the federal congress the arena for spreading firebrands and hatred between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States.

By consolidating their strength, they have placed the slave-holding States in a hopeless minority in the federal congress, and rendered representation of no avail in protecting Southern rights against their exactions and encroachments.

They have proclaimed, and at the ballot box sustained, the revolutionary doctrine that there is a “higher law” than the constitution and laws of our Federal Union, and virtually that they will disregard their oaths and trample upon our rights.

They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition.

They have invaded Southern soil and murdered unoffending citizens, and through the press their leading men and a fanatical pulpit have bestowed praise upon the actors and assassins in these crimes, while the governors of several of their States have refused to deliver parties implicated and indicted for participation in such offences, upon the legal demands of the States aggrieved.

They have, through the mails and hired emissaries, sent seditious pamphlets and papers among us to stir up servile insurrection and bring blood and carnage to our firesides.

They have sent hired emissaries among us to burn our towns and distribute arms and poison to our slaves for the same purpose.

They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.

They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding State.

Therefore.

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

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; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.

This is a good day for Texas and American history. I am just grateful that Straus did not propose changing references to slavery to “workers.”

New to the Civil War Memory Library, 09/17

Update: The official release date for my new book, Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites, (Rowman &Littlefield) is this week. Stay tuned.

Karen L. Cox, Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

[Note: Finished this book in three sittings. Highly recommend it.]

Earl J. Hess, Civil War Logistics: A Study of Military Transportation (Louisiana State University Press, 2017).

Cynthia Mills and Pamela H. Simpson, Monuments to the Lost Cause: Women, Art, and the Landscapes of Southern Memory (University of Tennessee Press, 2003).

Wesley Moody, Seven Myths of the Civil War (Hackett Publishing, 2017).

Richard White, The Republic For Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Robert E. Lee’s Final Ride in Dallas

Yesterday the people of Dallas, Texas removed the Robert E. Lee monument from a local park, where it had stood since 1936. That now makes four cities (New Orleans, Baltimore) and Austin – if you include the university – that have removed monuments to Robert E. Lee.

Removal of Robert E. Lee Monument in Dallas, TX (Source: Reuters)

This latest removal suggests that we are far from finished with Confederate monument removals. Of course, these are decisions that will continue to be made in local communities, by the very people who must decide whether these monuments still represent their shared values, but the overall impact is crystal clear.

Even if this most recent wave of removals ceases, it is clear that what we have witnessed is a broad-based rejection of what the Confederacy and the men enshrined in these monuments and memorials always embodied:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. – Alexander Stephens, March 21, 1861

Our public spaces ought to be places where the men and women memorialized represent the highest values of its residents. We should at least be able to agree that the people who fought to make Stephens’s “great truth” a reality are not deserving of such an honor.

Re: Confederate Monuments, National Polls are Irrelevant

It’s kind of funny to see the very same people who cheer for states’ (local) rights cite national polls in the debate about whether Confederate monuments should be removed or re-located. But here’s the thing, as a barometer for why monuments are under attack and even being removed these polls tell us nothing. In fact, they are largely irrelevant. [click to continue…]

Introducing *Bunk*

I am super excited to help introduce the new digital history project created by historian Edward L. Ayers and editor Tony Field called Bunk. What is Bunk? Well, rather than me trying to explain it, I will leave it to Ed and Tony to introduce the project in this short video. Click here for additional information.

One of the reasons I am so excited about this project is because I was asked to come on board as a contributing editor. My role will be to look out for those stories that touch on various aspects of historical memory. You can also look forward to regular monthly op-eds from me as well as articles and op-eds curated into what we are calling “Collections,” which group individual stories around a common theme. You can see an example of this here. I am currently working on one that will coincide with the upcoming PBS documentary on Vietnam from Ken Burns.

Take some time to explore the site. We are likely going to see a good deal of activity over the next few weeks now that the site is live. History educators will certainly find this resource to be helpful in trying to make those connections between current events and the past more tangible for their students.

Once again, I want to thank Ed and Tony for the invitation to join the team.

Historians For a Better Future Add Context to Confederate Monument

The group Historians for a Better Future has come up with an interesting approach to adding context to North Carolina’s Confederate monument to women in Raleigh. Their banners feature quotes from historians, including Lonnie Bunch III, Karen Cox, Eric Foner, and Manisha Sinha.

Historians for a Better Future in Raleigh, NC

The banners also resemble those carried by women campaigning for the right to vote in front of the White House during WWI. You can follow the organization at their Facebook page.

Robert E. Lee Takes Another Hit

I think it is safe to say that this has not been a good year for the memory of Robert E. Lee as well as the Confederacy. The Lost Cause is in retreat throughout much of the former Confederate states. Lee monuments have been removed in New Orleans and Baltimore. As we all know, the Charlottesville city council also voted to remove its monument to Lee. Its removal awaits a court decision. In the mean time it remains covered with a black tarp. [click to continue…]