The hot topic in political circles this month has been the removal of statues of leaders of the Confederacy in various places in the South, most notably New Orleans. So naturally, Texans have been expecting something of the sort to happen here. Enter Texas Antifa. Maybe.
A small ‘anti-fascist’ Facebook group posted about their intention to see the nearly 100-year-old Sam Houston statue in Hermann Park come down. A local news station covered the posts, and then sought a comment from a member of an open carry advocacy group that apparently plans to lead a counter-protest. The information about the counter protest has been disseminated widely, and so it looks as though a lot of people will be joining in for a Saturday in the Park to remember.
We thought we’d take a moment to help the protesters brush up on a little Texas history before these protests get into high gear. We’d love to post directly to them, but it’s a little difficult to determine whether the various ‘anti-fascist’ or ‘Antifa’ groups on Facebook are legitimate or parodies. The groups themselves sometimes aren’t even able to keep them straight. So we’ll just leave this right here, so protesters, counter-protesters, media, and other interested parties can find out what’s what.
First, did Sam Houston own slaves?
He did. At the time of his death, he owned twelve slaves between the ages of four and fifty-five, all of whom he left to his wife and children.
So then, was Sam Houston actually a Confederate hero?
Far from it. Having moved to Texas from Tennessee (where he had been governor) he helped lead the Texas revolution, and then became the first (and third) president of Texas until he and the other leaders of Texas could navigate the process of joining the United States. It joined the union as a slave state, and would later reinforce that decision in its vote for secession in 1861, with 76% of voters voting to secede.
But governor Sam Houston wanted no part of secession, and it eventually cost him his office. For years after Texas became a state, Houston, as one of the new Texas senators, supported many bills opposed by slavery advocates. Later as governor, he left no doubt about his unwillingness to see Texas secede from the union. Once the state government was firmly in secessionist hands, they replaced Governor Houston immediately due to these anti-secessionist views, and refusing to swear an oath to the Confederacy. He had worked hard to have Texas admitted into the Union, and did not want to see it break off with the other Confederate states.
This puts Houston roughly in the same category as Lincoln, who had said ‘If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.’ To both men, the union of the United States was of paramount concern. And there aren’t any calls for pulling down the Lincoln memorial. Yet.
So what about the giant Sam Houston statue on 45 in Huntsville?
Yes, the group claims that statue will have to come down too.
And the name of the city?
Who knows how far they intend to take it? Perhaps Washington D.C. itself will have to be renamed since George Washington owned slaves as well. In fact, we’re a little surprised that we haven’t seen calls for that yet.
Wouldn’t this be like erasing history?
A bit, yes. Houston is honored with statues and such first because he won battles that helped Texas achieve independence, and then helped to govern her as a republic and then as a state. The protesters seem to be looking at much of the history in the eighteenth and nineteenth century through twenty-first century lenses. It’s never quite fair to judge people from a different era with the perspective we have today. There are things we inevitably fail to consider, and projecting our enlightened sensibilities onto people who didn’t have our cultural or personal viewpoints fails to account for the culture they lived under at that point in time. It’s a dangerous trap to fall into, and the best way to avoid it is to read more history – not just about a person, but about their era and the culture at the time.
We spoke with our friend Bill Hansen, a retired teacher and history buff from Wisconsin, and he too expressed concerns about the seeming lack of consistency of the group in question:
‘They need to have a standard, what it is that puts an historical figure on the chopping block. Are they demanding the statues be taken down because … they were slave holders? Then the Washington Monument needs to be demolished, and the Jefferson Memorial, and cities named for them should be changed to something that won’t offend anyone. Oh, and the State of Washington, gotta name it something new and bland.
‘But if they just want them taken down because they joined the Confederacy then they should praise Houston. Oh, but he favored slavery? OK, then we have to cast a wider net than just “slave owners”. There were Northerners that were okay with slavery. Do we need to have a litmus test on a person’s beliefs, and if they don’t pass our 21st Century ideals then they are evil? Lincoln was a racist in our eyes, but Frederick Douglass thought very highly of him. Well, so much for that Uncle Tom.
‘If you want to pull down the statues of anyone that you find offensive, because they don’t live up to your ideal there are going to be very few statues left standing. I would ask these zealots what their standard is for allowing a statue to remain standing.’
So what do we do about all this?
The current political climate is encouraging a lot of people on different sides of the political spectrum to act immediately, rather than take a few minutes to look more into a subject. The news media is also getting caught up in this trend, often rushing to be first with a story instead of getting a story right. You won’t often go wrong by giving the news cycle a few days to get the story right, or spending a little time on Google before joining an online crusade. And when you hear groups demanding radical change in some area, it’s a good idea to check their facts before charging into the fray.