The Confederate Soldiers Monument is one of 12 memorials on the grounds that perpetuate the “lost cause”—the historical myth that the Confederate cause was heroic and not about slavery.
It is a lie easily debunked by looking at Texas’ Ordinance of Succession, which laid out the state’s own reasoning for withdrawing from the union. The document declares that Blacks were “rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race” and that “the servitude of the African race … is mutually beneficial to both bond and free” as well as ordained by God. Even the monument’s Confederate death count, scholars have pointed out, is inflated.
The endurance of the Confederate cult here does not, of course, reflect the prejudices of most Texans, which is what makes these symbols so corrosive to a shared sense of state identity. An implicit endorsement of white supremacy, they most directly exclude Black Texans, whose struggle for freedom offers a far more edifying narrative to rally around—one that embodies our national values and unity rather than doubling down on a lost war. But they set up an identity conflict for anyone of good conscience who wants to claim Texas as their own: Every assertion of Texas identity must come with a “but.”
Reminders of the Confederacy abound here in Austin, considered the state’s bluest city: In the Texas State Cemetery, civil rights hero and Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and former Governor Ann Richards lie yards away from Albert Sidney Johnston, a slave owner and Confederate general whose Gothic tomb looks out on the Confederate Fields on the cemetery’s southeast side, where 2,200 Confederate veterans are interred, each plot marked by a white cross.
Some of my Southern friends have said that when you grow up in the South, the paraphernalia is so commonplace, it can blur into the background. But if you’re new to it, it’s striking to see the resentments of the 1800s enshrined in what are supposed to be shared expressions of our civic ideals.
It was perhaps easier to dismiss them before the Obama and Trump presidencies brought the Nazis and white, Christian nationalists out of the woodwork, when it was at least a bit more plausible to reassure oneself that “America is getting better.” It’s become harder to think of racism as a healing wound on the body politic when white nationalists demonstrate openly in public and Republicans in the Legislature try to ensure K-12 students only get taught a sanitized fairy tale about Texas history.
“Most Texans do not support erasing our history … out of political correctness,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick wrote in an August 2022 letter to Senate Democrats who had urged the Legislature to remove Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds.
The irony is that whitewashing Texas history is the very purpose of Confederate propaganda—and the impetus behind state Republicans’ attacks on education. Last year, Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that limits how K-12 teachers can talk about racism and slavery; it bans educators from discussing the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which reframes the nation’s founding as inextricably linked to the arrival of slaves on American shores in 1619.
Interestingly, when I taught in Texas, I dealt with very little of this in my Civil War classes. Some of this might have been my rather strong personality, which does not exactly open the door to students to push myths in class. Some of it is more likely that I was dealing with upper middle class students in the late 2000s who just didn’t believe in any of that crap. But I definitely had students say that this was not how they had learned the Civil War growing up in the Dallas or Houston burbs (where most were from).