San Antonio Express-News. July 20, Symbols not merely about heritage
For some, symbols of the Confederacy and the names associated with that cause are nothing more than history remembered and heritage celebrated. For others, they are painful reminders of what precisely that cause was — preserving slavery — and how some of those fault lines still exist.
As racial healing is still necessary today, the hurt matters most.
It just shouldn’t be all that difficult to understand why these names and symbols offend a great many Texans, particularly since the Confederate battle flag’s usage in the years since the Civil War has often been to further white supremacy and block civil rights.
Respect and courtesy dictate that considerable weight be given to the hurt and anger many Texans feel over display of these names and symbols in public places. It is nigh on impossible to separate these from the cause that originally gave them meaning. And it is difficult to forget also that much of the civic tumult the South has experienced since 1865 has been about variations on a Civil War theme — how much equality and how fast.
No, you aren’t a racist if you feel Southern pride. And you aren’t necessarily an apologist for slavery if these symbols spark some of that pride in you. But a more complete understanding of the history and usages of these symbols leads to an inescapable conclusion. They are understandably hurtful to many Texans and their adoption on public property gives the impression that government either approves of what those symbols represented in 1861 and beyond or glosses over that history to rationalize delivering that hurt.
One issue here is the same that prompted the state of Texas to reject putting the battle flag on license plates, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed as constitutional last month. The state weighed the considerable baggage associated with that flag when it rejected its placement on license plates.
State license plates are not billboards or bumper stickers. Much the same applies to public places.
Placement on these spaces confers a legitimacy that seems to say all taxpayers agree with the respect extended. This can never be the case with Confederate symbols, not just because of what occurred in the 19th century but for what occurred in the 20th and is occurring in the 21st centuries. The photo of accused Charleston killer Dylann Roof with the battle flag comes readily to mind.
Robert E. Lee, whose name is on a local high school, was a brilliant military strategist and man with a complex history when it came to slavery. But the bottom line is he led an army whose victory would have meant perpetuation of white people owning black people. And consider that Lee didn’t want the battle flag displayed at his own funeral.
It’s true. Most Confederate soldiers were fighting for their states, not slavery. Most weren’t slave owners. And yet the “state right” to secede that the Confederate states invoked and for which these soldiers fought was almost entirely about preserving slavery. All the Confederate states, including Texas, were quite forthright about this in one way or another.
The truth is that ethnic and racial divisions and inequities still exist — inequity, in fact, too often correlating to race and ethnicity. Flying the flag does not further the cause of healing, and this healing is as necessary today as it was at the end of the Civil War.
The slogan “Black lives matter” and the Charleston killings did not occur in a vacuum.
These Confederate symbols and names have a place when used in the proper historical contexts. Names on public places are generally meant to honor the bearers of those names. And statues in public parks — such as the tribute to Confederate soldiers in Travis Park — are not generally placed there to provide mere history lessons, though they can serve that purpose. They are erected to honor people.
The city of San Antonio, Bexar County, area school districts, universities and the state should heed the calls to take inventory of where they’ve allowed these names and symbols to exist on public property. And in determining whether they belong there, they should take stock of the history and how this past has affected some Texans differently than others.