There is more to consider than the Confederacy and Slavery
There is more to consider than the Confederacy and Slavery
One of the causes du jour is the attempt by some to remove all reference to the Confederacy and slavery from the annals of our history. They deny it even as they lobby to rename streets, schools and buildings, as they tear down statues and deface other monuments. But the results speak much louder than their words. They find something distasteful and they want it gone. It’s for the children, they claim. They don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. Sorry, but history doesn’t work that way and by removing teaching opportunities, we are sending those same children they say they want to protect on a very slippery slope to repeating those past mistakes.
Dallas has started down that slope already. It took the first step down the hill when Mayor Mike Rawlings and the city council decided not to abide by the mayor’s earlier decision to have a cooling off period before removing a statue of General Robert E. Lee from Lee Park. Now the Dallas Independent School District has recommended four schools be renamed and another 17 are on a list to be considered for renaming.
It didn’t surprise me to find Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee on the list of schools to have name changes. The naming of Albert Sidney Johnston didn’t surprise me. Johnston moved to Texas in 1836, fought in the Texas War for Independence and then served as the Republic of Texas’ Secretary of War, he resigned from that post in 1840 and returned to Kentucky. He was later killed fighting for the Confederacy.
But imagine my surprise to see people like Ben Franklin on the list to be further investigated for possible removal. Franklin who, in his later years, argued against slavery. Thomas Jefferson is also on the list. So are Sam Houston, Jim Bowie, Davey Crockett and Williams Barrett Travis. All four were heroes of the Texas Revolution and the latter three died to help win Texas’ independence from Mexico. Sam Houston, while serving as governor of Texas, opposed the state’s withdrawal from the Union and was removed from office. But he, too, is on the list for possible removal. Why? Why are any of these men on the list?
One of the four names DISD was presented, along with the strong recommendation that the name be considered for removal, is that of William L. Cabell. Now, many who have lived in Dallas for very long know the Cabell name. But I took a few minutes to do some research into Cabell to see what he had done that was so horrible to merit the immediate removal of his name from a DISD campus.
It didn’t take long. Cabell served as a brigadier general in the Confederate army. As far as DISD is concerned, that’s enough. In fact, even a vague mention of slavery or the Confederacy in someone’s biography merits adding their name to the list to be considered for removal WITHOUT FURTHER INVESTIGATION. It is reminiscent of all those who told us not to worry about the fact the members of Congress hadn’t had a chance to read the wording of the Affordable Care Act. They could read it after they voted for it.
“This was just a very quick review of looking at the biographies of the individuals,” DISD chief of school leadership Stephanie Elizalde told trustees on Sept. 14. “And if there was any association with Confederacy — not making a judgment for or against — just if we saw Confederacy named in it, we then highlighted it. We are now in the process of doing a second [look].”
Wow, talk about presuming guilt and having to prove innocence.
So what about Cabell, who Elizalde finally said didn’t have to be changed immediately but did need a second look?
He moved to Dallas in 1872. In 1874, he was elected mayor. He served in that capacity from 1874 – 1876, 1877 – 1879 and 1883 – 1885. During his time in office, he expanded rail access to the city. He helped bring sewer and electrical services to Dallas as well as beginning a program for paving streets. During this time, the city population saw a massive growth. But, all those looking at whether or not he should be removed as the name for a DISD campus will consider is the fact he served the Confederacy and that, later in life, he remained active in Confederate veteran affairs. Nothing else matters.
Unfortunately, too many don’t look at the issue from the same standpoint as DISD trustee Dustin Marshall. “Because, for me, the bright line distinction that we’re looking for here — and I absolutely want to avoid a slippery-slope situation — is not whether they were a general or a brigadier general, but whether the school was named in order to honor that individual specifically for their role in the Confederacy.”
The issue truly becomes one of where do we draw the line? George Washington owned approximately 120 slaves at the time of his death. Do we erase him, one of our founding fathers and the first president of our nation, from history for that? When do we admit that we might not like – heck, that we abhor – things that happened in the past but that times have changed? Instead of trying to erase the bad or uncomfortable aspects of our history, we need to use it as a teaching point. Yes, slavery was horrible. But we weren’t the first nation to allow it nor were we the last to outlaw it. Anglo-Saxons weren’t the first to act as slave owners either.
Who is going to tell our children that the men who gave their lives, men like Crockett and Bowie and Travis, to win Texas’ independence from Mexico aren’t worthy of having their names on schools or to have monuments built to them?
Instead of automatically assuming someone has been recognized because of their service to the Confederate States of America or because they opposed desegregation, institutions like DISD and the City of Dallas should pause and do their research first. They need to see if there are ties to the state and to the community. They need to see if the person is important to our history for reasons other than the Civil War. Then and only then can they form a viable plan of action, one appropriate not only to today but to the contributions – or lack thereof – of the person being memorialized.