Troubled that Texas not only has a state-recognized holiday called Confederate Heroes Day, but also that said holiday just so happens to bump up against Martin Luther King Jr. Day every year (this year, the celebrations even fell on the very same day), 13-year-old Jacob Hale of Austin took his concerns to the Legislature. The ultimate result was HB 1242, authored by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), which, if passed, would recast the holiday as Civil War Remembrance Day and move it to May.
On Tuesday, Hale went before a House committee and, wearing his suit, tie and American flag lapel pin, testified in favor of the bill he inspired, saying the current holiday ignores Union members and sympathizers who died in Texas along with those enslaved in the state. Hale urged lawmakers to create a new holiday that would be "more inclusive and a more accurate symbol of our state's diverse history."
And then, one by one, a line of mostly white, mostly elderly Confederacy buffs urged lawmakers to kill the teenager's bill.
Tuesday's debate grew tense as Confederacy apologists flooded the hearing -- committee chairman Rep. Ray Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) had to warn the crowd that outbursts wouldn't be tolerated. When Howard stood up to say, "this is not about political correctness... this is not about wiping our history, this is about adding to our history," she was greeted with loud jeers.
Shelby Little, of Williamson County, told the committee that descendants of Confederate soldiers see any attempt to move the holiday or change its name as a slap in the face. "It's personal. Assaults on their (Confederate soldiers') character are assaults on us. ... There are a few of us who have resolved that we have turned the other cheek on this issue for the last time. This is just the latest in an almost continuous attempt to slander the southern attempt of independence."
Descendants of Union soldiers already have Memorial Day, Little said. "Former slaves, they have their own day, also" he said, referencing Juneteenth.
Rudy Roy, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans from Palestine, Texas, told lawmakers that political correctness was threatening to scrub history. "If we start trying to change the historical record for political reasons, we do great damage to our heritage," he told the committee, before loudly declaring, "We were not a Yankee state!"
Virtually all opponents of the bill argued the Confederate flag is an emblem of the southern fight for independence -- not, say, the fight to preserve a particular institution -- and insisted the holiday and what it represents has nothing to do with racial bigotry.
A few years back, the Texas Observer actually highlighted some of the rhetoric coming from Confederacy apologists, particularly in East Texas. Take, for instance, this newsletter put out by the Bonham-based chapter of the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans decrying the "multiculturalist" attempt to undermine any concept of white, ethnic pride. Titled "The Hidden History of Slavery: Black slavery used as propaganda," the article begins with this paragraph:
"The Multiculturalists, dominant in the media and education, continuously use the issue of Black Slavery as a psychological baton to beat over the heads of White people, children in particular, to damage any concept of ethnic pride that they have (while at the same time, encouraging ethic pride amongst Blacks, Asians, etc.). Black slavery, amongst other issues, is used by Multiculturalists as propaganda to discourage Whites from becoming so-called 'racists,' and to encourage them (brainwash them) into becoming Multiculturalists."
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As others have pointed out, Texas's holiday honoring the Confederacy wasn't on the books until the late Civil Rights Era. Wrote Chron blogger Chris Ladd last year: "Amid rising calls nationally for a celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday, the Texas Legislature responded in 1973 with the sort of passive-aggressive hostility so common in the late Civil Rights Era." Although the new holiday was meant to be a combined celebration of both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis' birthdays, it's no coincidence the Legislature chose January 19, Lee's birthday. (MLK Day celebrations happen on the third Monday in January, around King's January 15 birthday.)
In other areas, the State of Texas has already concluded that the Confederate flag is largely seen as a hate-tinged symbol of oppression, commonly associated with slavery, the Old South, racism, and the KKK. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case looking at whether Texas violated the Sons of Confederate Veterans' First Amendment rights when the state rejected the Confederate flag as a specialty license plate. Then- Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in a brief that, if forced to approve the Stars-and-Bars plate, "it is not apparent how the state could exclude profanity, sacrilege or overt racism from its specialty license plates."
On Tuesday, Howard said she at first discouraged her 13-year-old constituent from pursuing legislation to change the Confederate Heroes Day -- perhaps knowing how acerbic the debate was likely to become. "This was not a bill I was seeking, this is not an issue for me. But when Jacob came to me and talked to me ... he persevered, he convinced me this was an important thing to do."
The bill was left pending in committee Tuesday after hours of testimony.