If you’ve never heard of “Mister McKinney,” you are missing out on one of Houston’s leading cultural contributors. Handsome and friendly, R.W. McKinney can fire off historical facts with the confidence and rapidity of an automatic rifle. He is heavily involved and on the board of many historical and cultural preservation organizations, including Miller Outdoor Theatre, Harris County Historical Society, and President of the Bellaire Historical Society.
His passion for the past has enthralled children, captivated television audiences, and earned him multiple speaking engagements and curative positions. In light of the commotion around Texas Hero’s Act: HB 1359, we decided to ask Mr. McKinney a few questions.
Do you think it’s wise to remove historic statues or symbols that some might consider offensive?
In some respects, for example, flying a confederate flag – which is currently leveraged by groups for hate – would be something to seriously think about and weigh the implications of. However, when it comes to statues, like the Sam Houston Statue, these personages are not representative of any modern agenda or current cultural rights or wrongs. They are representative of their era, and the events they helped shape. Those events propelled us toward the America we are today, and it’s very important that we remember how we got here.
But it’s not just statues being taken down, like we saw in Louisiana and even Austin, Texas. It’s the changing of school and street names.
Yes. One casualty of the recent name changing trend is Dowling Street. The street’s namesake, Richard Dowling, was a Houstonian business man. He was an immigrant from Ireland and an entrepreneur. This is a man who passed away from yellow fever after his lungs were damaged rescuing a little girl from a fire. It’s sad to lose sight of history.
“People in favor of taking down statues and renaming streets, often they’re teaching to a talking point instead of looking at the big picture.”
However controversial a historic person may be, it’s important to remember them for who they were in the context of their time and place, and how their actions changed the cultural and political landscape of our modern world.
What do you think of this whole hoax Antifa protest around Sam Houston which Anonymous coordinated?
Well, it’s interesting that they chose the Sam Houston Statue in Hermann Park for their event, because that statue was controversial when it went in, but for exactly the opposite reason of today. So, that’s an ironic twist. Hermann Park actually got the statue in 1925. At that time, Sam Houston was still a controversial figure – not because he owned slaves – but because he had opposed Texas joining the Confederacy.
At that time, Houston City was working on a lot of civic art and beautification projects. A lot of people were dismayed that the statue installed in Hermann Park celebrated a man who stood up against the will of the people in favor of his personal beliefs; that Texas should not align itself with the Confederacy. And here’s a fun fact about the statue: He’s pointing to the battlefield of San Jacinto, as if to say ‘Texans, this is our victory. Remember San Jacinto.’ You have to remember that Houston was a legend along the same lines of Davy Crocket, Abe Lincoln, and George Washington, but he was also very controversial because he was principled.
Clearly, this protest was a hoax. However there is a very real movement to remove historical monuments and rename schools and other public buildings. Do you think the Sam Houston statue, or the city name of Houston, could be in real danger?
We’re not going to change our history – change our city – just because one of our founders did something that he came to view as wrong later in life, despite it being the norm in his culture and era.
Awesome! Thank you so much for talking with me. Also, I want to be sure and cover your Houston History Bus Project. Tell us about it?
Yes! I recently spoke with Deborah Duncan about it actually which was really fun. I always enjoy talking with Deborah. The Houston History Bus gives free tours of historic Houston area sites to school children. We pick the kids up at school, and we drive them around their communities showing them where history happened in their own backyard.
To fund the project, we’re using GoFundMe to raise $8,600 to outfit a retired school bus. We’re cutting the back off and installing a flat screen TV to create an open air mobile classroom. We’ll show kids old photos and illustrations of local buildings and historic events, and we’ll compare those images to the actual location and see how time has changed things. We’ll show them where Santa Ana marched through the East End, and where the original fire station used to be in The Heights. It’s an extremely cool project, and a great way to raise historical awareness for our kids.