Soon, cars driving into Texas from Louisiana along Interstate 10 will be greeted with a Civil War memorial complete with 32 Confederate flags.
The memorial, planned on private property purchased by the Texas branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), will sit at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in Orange, Texas. After the massacre of nine black parishioners last week in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the subsequent order by Governor Nikki Haley to take down the Confederate flag near her state’s capitol building, a new Confederate memorial—adjacent to Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, no less—seems especially tone deaf.
The planned memorial has caused controversy since it was first announced in 2013—the local branch of the NAACP opposed the memorial at local city council meetings and the Beaumont Enterprise, the primary local newspaper, wrote that
“the last thing Southeast Texas needs is a large memorial to the Confederacy like one proposed along Interstate 10 in Orange. Simply put, it would be divisive and offensive. It would also harm the entire region’s image as one of the first things that west-bound travelers along Interstate 10 see when entering Texas.”
However, when the same paper conducted an online poll asking residents if they supported construction of the monument, 74 percent of respondents answered “yes.”
(Meanwhile, a town outside of Forth Worth, Texas called “White Settlement” recently had a vote to decide if it should change its name. Residents voted overwhelming not to change the name, 2,388 to 219.)
Yesterday, Texas CSV spokesman Marshall Davis told The Daily Beast, “It’s an interesting thing about that monument in Orange—it’s not news! That monument has been worked on for years.”
Davis said the monument is to honor the 32 Texas divisions of the Confederate Standard Army (CSA) who carried their own flags in the battle to secede from the union. The concrete platform for the memorial has been built, but the walkway around it isn’t finished, and the eventual plan is to raise the flags eight at a time. While the flagpoles have been ordered, Davis said there’s no date set for when the first eight flags will go up and there’s no large ceremony planned.
"We're not looking for a lot of pomp and circumstance. We just want to honor our ancestors and heroes,” Davis said.
Davis declined to comment on the record about the Charleston murders but noted he did not believe the Texas monument to be in any way related to the massacre.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans has a long history—it was founded in 1896 in Richmond, Virginia to “encourage the preservation of history, perpetuate the hallowed memories of brave men, to assist in the observance of Memorial Day, to aid and support all members, widows and orphans, and to perpetuate the record of the services of every Southern Soldier.”
Beginning in the late 1990s the group has become steadily more controversial, with its critics arguing that it has changed from a group dedicated to preserving veterans’ memorials to a movement pushing the Confederate flag on schools and other public places.
In South Carolina after the massacre in Charleston, the local “division commander”—the SCV uses military titles for its officers—published a statement that all attempts to link CSV beliefs with Dylann Roof and his attack on the Emanuel A.M.E. Church are groundless because “historical fact shows there were Black Confederate soldiers. These brave men fought in the trenches beside their White brothers, all under the Confederate Battle Flag.”
Yet while the Confederate government did approve of using slaves to fight, it was not, as Robert E. Lee had hoped, to win their freedom, nor was it approved until March of 1865, a month before Lee surrendered.
Here in Texas, the local CSV is not only looking to the past but also the future: Kirk David Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center (a legal group linked to csa.org, or Confederate Standing Army.org) wrote on the Texas CSV Facebook page last Friday that the group was leaving soon for the Sam Davis Youth camp, where they would be “preparing 50 great kids for their Confederate future.” Whether that future includes treason wasn’t clear.
Throughout the South, there is much debate about what the Confederate flag and its army stood for. Marshall Davis said in April that the U.S. flag is more about slavery than the Confederate flag: “The American flag flew over a slave nation for over 100 years—the Confederate flag flew over a slave nation for four years. By comparison, the American flag is 25 times more a slave flag.”
Johnnie Holley Jr., commander of the SCV Texas division, said that people “need to know the true history of this nation and the world,” suggesting that the legacy of the Confederacy in Texas isn’t racism—but, unfortunately for his cause, the historical record in Texas is clear. Over the objection of then-leader Sam Houston, when Texas issued its Confederate declaration of war, the declaration clearly said: “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”
Slaves in Texas were the last in the newly reunited Union to be freed: though Robert E. Lee was defeated in April of 1865 it wasn’t until June 19 that the news made its way to Texas. Because of that date, “Juneteenth” has been celebrated as an emancipation day by descendants of slaves. Though Texas was the first state to establish June 19 as a holiday in 1980, it is only a “partial” holiday—state offices do not close and, according to The New York Times, most Americans don’t even know about it.