Update to Texas Confederate license plate controversy

Thanks to some of my intrepid readers, who followed up on this story and commented to my earlier post on the controversial proposed SCV license plate in the Lone Star State. Initial stories on the situation indicated opposition to the plate by prominent Democratic politicians in the state, which led me to believe that there might be more to this than moral opposition to the Confederate flag and Confederacy.

However, I learned from one commenter (hat tip to David Woodbury, blogger at of Battlefields and Bibliophiles) that Gov. Rick Perry expressed opposition to the plate as well. This definitely changed the situation for the future of the proposal, as he holds great sway in the state and on the commission that determined its fate, which contained several Perry appointees. This held true, as the commission rejected the plate proposal, choosing instead to honor the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which is certainly an institution and group of soldiers worth honoring with a license plate. However, this issue is likely not dead, as SCV will likely sue to have the plates issued. The group has successfully litigated in other southern states before on the plate issue.

My thoughts on this would be for the commission to communicate to the SCV the option for a Civil War license plate that is neutral, commemorating appropriately the 150th anniversary of the war with the silhouette of a soldier and the wording of the anniversary and the war. It would allow citizens to take their own meaning from the plate and the proceeds could be directed to preservation of Civil War related items and land, which would hopefully satisfy the SCV.

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11 thoughts on “Update to Texas Confederate license plate controversy

  1. I don’t think there’s any question that Perry’s stance on the license plate is 100% a political calculation, given his otherwise consistent support of groups like the SCV and UDC (see http://tinyurl.com/8ypewma).

    I still think it curious that you suggest if it’s only Democratic opposition, then the opposition must be for something other than “moral” reasons. But now that you’ve learned about Perry’s position, the Democratic opposition is less suspect. When, ironically, it is Perry’s position that is most transparently based on something other than “moral” reasons.

    I think the reason prominent Democrats spoke out against it was due to a large constituency of citizens who find the battleflag inflammatory and representative of virulent bigotry and white supremacy. The reason Perry objected, I believe, is that after the firestorm over the painted rock at his family’s hunting camp, his campaign would rather disappoint the SCV then take on another CSA-related controversy.

    • You are right that the opposition likely relates to representing a constituency that finds the flag inflammatory, but I still question it. What if someone desired a commemorative plate reflecting the Mexican heritage of Texas, with proceeds going to raising funds for educational ventures dealing with Hispanic culture, which would not really bother me, but might be inflammatory to a large constituency in the area, would Congresswoman Lee and others be as opposed? I doubt it and that is why I found her opposition interesting. In retrospect, I should have simply noted her and not the party, but given that there were no major Republicans coming out against it initially, I did find it interesting.

      The one thing that would be interesting to examine is how such plates have been received and if any negative incidences arose in the states where they already exist. If significant harm and damage has happened in those states where SCV plates are available, then I would be more inclined to oppose, but simply being offended does not cut it for me. I see bumper stickers on cars that might offend me, but it is not my car and I do not have the right to infringe on other motorists’ vehicles unless such images or messages called for criminal activity or violence of an extreme nature.

      Dave, this is a fun exchange and I appreciate your thoughtfulness in your comments, as they do give me food for thought.

  2. Daniel,

    Bumper stickers on a car may be offensive, as you mentioned — indeed, sometimes they contain outright profanity, which is pretty distasteful for a public display — but the distinction is that, with the sticker, it is a personal decision by someone who placed a message on their private property. For the DMV to effectively “endorse” a particular image by allowing it’s printing on government-issued plates is something else again.

    Unlike Mexican heritage — which might be compared to any other ethnic situation, like Italian flags in Little Italy, or the national celebration of Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day — the Confederate battleflag (even in various configurations) is uniquely offensive to a large segment of the population (and not exclusively African-Americans). Whatever one feels about the causes of secession, and war, it represented some of the military forces of a fledgling nation seeking independence principally to preserve and protect the institution of slavery. More to the point, the image was expropriated by the most virulent racists in the history of the nation, who, from the last days of the Civil War till this very day, have made it emblematic of white supremacism.

    I hate to make the swastika analogy, but it’s an apt one. The bad people who co-opted that image have ruined it beyond rehabilitation (outside of historic or museum-oriented displays). Someone who looks at the flag and says it represents racism has precisely the same historic authority to define the symbology as a SCV member who says it represents honor. The SCV’s interpretation is no more authoritative. Champions of the battleflag claim that they uniquely represent “Southern Heritage,” but slavery and Jim Crow were no less a part of that heritage. There were slaves on the first ships at Jamestown. It’s not being politically correct to say that. It’s just history.

    David

    • Great points David. I do appreciate your willingness to bring in the swastika, as I was hesitant to go there. I guess the question is if it is possible for historians to rehabilitate the battle flag as an educational tool for discussing Confederate soldiers.

  3. Good discussion! I’m a grad student in History at Indiana University. I have to weigh in on the side of David’s view. We all have the freedom to be as offensive as we want to be personally, but when a state government condones something that so many find offensive–that’s a whole different ballgame.
    The “Confederate flag” remains a symbol of white supremacy to those who understand the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Unfortunately, uneducated public memory is still in thrall to a romanticized “Lost Cause” version of the era, even though historical questions as to the causes and effects of the Civil War were settled definitively by historians by 1990.

    I think it’s of great concern that an aggressive neoconfederate influence is alive in the land now, denying the actual history. Many even have the idea that blacks fought for the Confederacy–an idea considered by Jefferson Davis in desperation as late as March 1865, but dropped–southerners were afraid to arm their slaves (freedmen as of 1863)! Of course many blacks were impressed into labor for the CSA, but that’s different than fighting as a soldier–but that’s what people are thinking. What are your thoughts about this?

    You have a nice website & blog,Daniel. You’re in a position to educate and enlighten as well as share your love of history.

    Best,
    Margaret

    • Margaret,

      First, best of luck with your graduate studies.

      This situation does raise concerns for me as well, as the challenge then becomes how do we reach those who are so entrenched into a neo-Confederate position. To me, we must approach such individuals with kindness and calm as we quietly work to adjust their understanding of historical events. If they are intractable in shifting their thinking, then we should take the approach of Christ and wipe the dust off our feet. While that may seem harsh, and leaves them ignorant, I feel that such people are going to be marginalized anyway.

      Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful comment and the kind words about my blog. If you are interested in blogging yourself, let me know, as I am more than happy to give you a platform here.

      Daniel

  4. As the LA Times pointed out: “Nine other states have approved Sons of Confederate Veterans’ specialty plates, but Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina only did so after the group sued. A similar suit is pending in Florida.” The courts have consistently ruled in favor of the SCV on this issue, as they will likely do in this case as well. The Texas SCV will get their plates, despite what those who wish to suppress their freedom of expression wish. The only thing this will do is cost taxpayers money.

  5. Daniel:

    “as we quietly work to adjust their understanding of historical events.”

    Perhaps reeducation camps are in order? And who, Daniel, do you propose be in charge of the “adjusting?” Certainly not those who you’ve rightly accused of “liberal bias?” See: http://conservativehistorians.blogspot.com/2007/05/why-not-to-join-american-historical.html

    You also noted the following:

    “These areas are noted for housing radical professors who tend to negatively view America and Americans, particularly Christians and conservatives. With all these reasons, I must state that it would not be worth the money for conservative or Christian historians to belong to the AHA.”

    Have you changed your opinion about many of your peers?

    • Richard,

      No, certainly reeducation camps are not in order. I do believe that more extreme positions on historical happenings that fly in the face of a more logical and widely accepted understanding of the past must be encouraged through reasoned debate to examine the validity of their opinion against the evidence available. I will admit that I worded it in a way that would come across as more hostile.

      As to your question, my beef with the AHA about having several prominent officer candidates in the various fields that may cross into disciplines, such as Black, Chicano, Women’s, Gender, etc Studies is still there. I still feel that these fields are more likely to house more radical leaning professors. I just expressed a frustration at the time that my money was going to such things. Please remember that also in that post, I did state the importance in joining historical societies, but stress that more field specific and regional ones are better to join.

      As for my peers, I do get along with them and find them to be fairly good people. Though we may not agree on everything, we try to approach one another with civility and respect. That, to me is the ultimate goal, is to maintain that when faced with strong opinions that you do not agree with. I still do not wish to support the AHA at this time, as while it might be for some folks in the historical community, it is not for me, and I can access the American Historical Review through the library.

      I hope I was able to answer your question a bit, especially reflecting on a five year old post and thank you for your comment.

      • Thank you Daniel for your honest response. Your original comment just struck me as very condescending. Extremes are often a matter of perspective. As you’ve pointed out, the AHA is home to many views and perspectives which many (if not most) Americans would view as extreme. Perhaps the “work to adjust their understanding of historical events” should begin there.

        Best Regards,
        RGW

  6. Excellent thread, reasoned discussion. Now, I’d like to introduce a new topic; Daniel, please cut and paste my following comments where they should go.

    I’m reading Albert Guelzo’s new Civil War and Reconstruction, and am interested in your impressions of it. I find it remarkably even-handed, in that Dr Guelzo was able to express both the pros and cons of both sides regarding the antebellum issues which led to secession.

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