By State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, Texas District-139
Much of the discussion surrounding Confederate Heroes and monuments are centered around preserving heritage. But whose heritage is worth preserving? For some of us, it is not possible to separate the brutality of slavery from the actions of confederate soldiers. This conflict is deeply personal to me, my family line can be drawn back to a slave being raped by her white slave owner. Not everyone has stories from their ancestors they can be proud of. My great-great grandmother Janie’s life was full of violence and suffering. She was born into slavery, separated from her mother at five, raped remorselessly, bore children from those rapes, and lived separately from her fair-skinned children who lived with their white father. To many, the Civil War was so long ago, the war and the consequences of it are taught in History class, but for me, it was shared through my Mother and Grandfather’s words. Confederate monuments and holiday’s honoring “heroes” is a visualization of how this part of US History has been sanitized and white washed. When I look at monuments honoring the Confederacy, I see a painful depiction of the brutality that created my family line.
The definition of hero is “a person admired for achievements and noble qualities” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Are the actions of Jefferson Davis and Robert E Lee heroic by this definition so that they warrant an official state holiday to remembering them? While leaders such as Robert E Lee may have fought nobly in a brutal war, it is impossible to separate that he not only was fighting on the side that defended the act of slavery, but he himself was a slave owner. Owning slaves was inhumane, and a shameful part of America’s past, not a noble quality. If Texans want to remember their family members who fought and died in the fighting for the Confederacy, I encourage them to honor them on their deceased family members birthday, anniversary of their death or any other day of importance. Neither the state nor federal government have holidays to remember veterans of each American war separately, so why do we have a holiday to specifically honor the Confederate “heroes” in Texas?
Holidays like Confederate Heroes Day and the presence of over 170 public spaces with Confederate monuments in Texas offer a sanitized version of history. It is no secret many of these monuments were erected during the Jim Crow Era, a time period when my family was persecuted, segregated and navigated through a society where white supremacy was the law of the land. These monuments glorify Confederate leaders, while turning a blind eye to the realities of slavery and overlooking the alarmist prophecy poor white men were sold regarding abolition. Jefferson Davis said, “Free the negroes, however, and it would soon be here…the poor white man would become a menial for the rich, and be, by him, reduced to an equality with the free blacks”. [i] Poor white southerners were led to believe that abolishing slavery would be their demise. After the Civil War ended, and slaves were emancipated, we saw no systemic demise of white men. Across the socio-economic spectrum, white men continued to wield greater power than black men, which resulted in sharecropping, forced apprenticeships of black youth, chain gangs, Jim Crow Laws, lynching, and segregation well into the 20th century.
Governor Greg Abbott has said in reference to removal of a Confederate plaque that it “[wouldn’t] erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.” This plaque has since been removed from the Texas Capitol, and the time is now to abolish holidays like Confederate Heroes Day, which was enacted during a time when the only voices being heard were white men, whose heritage is much different than mine. We know now that Jefferson Davis, Robert E Lee and other Confederate leaders were on the wrong side of history.