In an age when misinformation and outright lies invite gullibility daily, let’s be grateful for those increasingly rare occasions when truth does triumph. Last Friday, the State Preservation Board unanimously voted to remove a controversial, wildly misleading “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque from the State Capitol. For nearly 60 years, it has informed Capitol visitors that, no, slavery was not the cause of the Civil War in which some 620,000 Americans from both the Union and Confederacy perished.
The fact the vote was unanimous and members of the board include Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and newly elected Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen suggest maybe these guys really are serous about getting their act together this legislative session. Then again, this decision should have been easy, given the plaque erected by Children of the Confederacy in 1959 specifically declares that “the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”
We’ve been hearing that canard for years. One doesn’t need to rely on Yankee scholars and revisionist history to know this is a lie. Consider the Feb. 2, 1861, document declaring Texas’ secession from the United States and justifying its joining the Confederacy: “She was received as a commonwealth holding, 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.”
Till recently, many of us visiting the State Capitol regarded this plaque as a quaint bit of revisionist history, obviously misleading but fairly innocuous, especially given the United States in the meantime had made great progress in terms of civil rights, evident in court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, both pressed by a Texan, President Lyndon Johnson. So long as such progress was made in terms of racial equality, many of us gave the plaque little notice.
But the 2008 election of an African-American president unleashed racism that was further stoked by latter-day politicians to the degree it inspired white nationalist violence such as we witnessed a year and a half ago in Charlottesville. Many of us then realized that, yes, maybe it was time to remove the plaque. Texans can argue about the fate of statues glorifying Confederate statesmen and soldiers such as Robert E. Lee, but the plaque by its very wording isn’t history except in the sense it shows Southern sympathizers trying to rewrite history.
If there’s any lesson in all this, it’s that lies told often and long enough cultivate their own sort of truth. As Texas Freedom Network political director Carisa Lopez remarked last week, it was only last November that the State Board of Education voted to require Texas public schools to teach that slavery was the central cause of the Civil War. Eight years earlier the board refused to do so. God only knows what youngsters in Children of the Confederacy in 1959 grew up believing.