AP NEWS

Confederate plaque should come down

December 5, 2018

It’s past time to take down the Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque at the state Capitol.

It belongs in a museum where it can be properly contextualized, but not in the Capitol’s first floor, which gives it some degree of veneration, or at least tacit acceptance that what it says is accurate. It isn’t.

Mounted in 1959 by the Texas Division of the Children of the Confederacy, the plaque says, “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).”

But here is a key truth of our history the plaque ignores: Slavery was a primary reason for the Civil War. This point is quite prominent, and made repeatedly, in the 1861 Declaration of Causes. This historical document outlines Texas’ reasons for secession. Slavery is front and center. Consider this excerpt:

“(Texas) was received as a commonwealth holding (to the Confederacy), 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. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy.”

Outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, a member of the State Preservation Board, first called for the plaque’s removal in September 2017 following the fatal white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

What should have been a clear decision then became politically muddied.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who chairs the six-member State Preservation Board, said state lawmakers should make such a decision. He has also said he will work with lawmakers to take down the plaque because of factual inaccuracy.

But this has the feel of passing the buck, rather than seizing the day. The governor doesn’t need to go to state lawmakers. As a recent opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton makes clear, the State Preservation Board can take down the plaque. So can the Texas Historical Commission, as well as state lawmakers.

Bear in mind, taking down the plaque does not mean erasing history.

It means, first and foremost, honoring history — by reporting it accurately.

It also means recognizing the plaque has its own history, shaped by powerful forces at the time of its creation, and as such it should be displayed in a museum with proper context as a way to promote broader understanding.

As Walter Buenger, chief historian of the Texas State Historical Association, told Express-News reporter Allie Morris, Confederate monuments surged in the 1950s as a reaction and protest to the civil rights movement.

The Confederacy is part of our history, so is slavery, and so is the Jim Crow mentality existing when many of these monuments were erected. As Straus has noted, we serve no one by hiding from these historical facts. We only delude ourselves.

Straus will be leaving office at the end of the year, and his moral leadership and courage will be greatly missed.

Abbott should follow Straus’ lead and call a special meeting and take down this inaccurate monument. Seize the moment, don’t relinquish it.

Or to borrow a phrase from state Rep. Eric Johnson, a Democrat out of Dallas, it’s time to take out the screwdrivers.

AP RADIO
Update hourly