The Texas Confederate Statues Controversy
Out of Austin, Texas comes word that the president of the University of Texas is forming a panel to decide the fate of numerous campus statues depicting Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. President William Powers Jr. summarized the lingering controversy:
"The whole range of options is on the table. A lot of students, and especially minority students, have raised concerns. And those are understandable and legitimate concerns. On the other hand, the statues have been here for a long time, and that's something we have to take into account as well."
Regular readers of Perrspectives' pieces such as "Confederacy of Dunces" and "Banning True Flag Desecration" won't be surprised by my preference to see the long-standing statues relocated or removed from a public American university. Traitors and secessionists with blood on their hands should be vilified, not celebrated. Rather than perpetuate the mythology of Confederate nobility, courage and honor, the school might do well to give those monuments some fitting historical context, perhaps in a display on slavery.
As I wrote in 2005, one of the simplest and most elegant expressions of the issues involved with the Confederate flag and other symbols of the old South came from, of all places, a late 1990's TV show about sports.
Sports Night, by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, was a comedic drama portraying the cast and team behind a nightly national sports program akin to ESPN Sportscenter. In an episode titled "The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee," the show's executive manager Isaac Jaffe delivered a special on-air editorial regarding a group of college football players who refused to take the field as long as their school continued to use the Confederate flag as its symbol. What Jaffe (played by Robert Guillaume) said may be the most succinct and powerful argument I've heard against the display of the Confederate flag by public institutions:
"In the history of the South, there's much to celebrate. And that flag is a desecration of all of it. It's a banner of hatred and separation. It's a banner of ignorance and violence and a war that pitted brother against brother, and to ask young black men and women, young Jewish men and women, Asians, Native Americans, to ask Americans to walk beneath its shadow is a humiliation of irreducable proportions. And we all know it."
The Texas statues case, of course, is somewhat more complex, given the campus legacy of the statues and the undeniable historical significance of their subjects. But at the end of the day, as Sports Night's Jaffe put, to celebrate the leaders of a war that pitted brother against brother is "a humiliation of irreducable proportions."
And we all know it.