Two weeks after the Jefferson Davis statue’s removal, many individuals continue to believe that states’ rights was his Confederacy’s cause for secession, not slavery.
In order to heal the wounds that remain in the wake of the Civil War, this myth must fall as well.
Confederate memorials that advocate a revisionist history encapsulate the problem. For instance, the Children of the Confederacy plaque in the Texas State Capitol building expresses that the Civil War “was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”
This plaque ignores that the Confederate states themselves formally declared otherwise. In 1861, the Texas Legislature published a document explaining that “maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery” was its cause for secession and declaring that black slaves “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.”
Why, then, does the state continue to support a lie?
Public policy professor Edwin Dorn argues that Confederate apologists crafted the guise of states’ rights to deflect blame.
“If you have found yourself not only on the losing end of a war but in a morally untenable position, you try to change the subject,” Dorn said.
Dorn added that the shift to states’ rights helps former Confederate states and Confederate supporters hold on to the racist beliefs that fueled the war.
“Segregation and anti-lynching laws were resisted by the South on states’ rights grounds,” Dorn said. “[States’ rights] is an old argument—an old excuse—for maintaining white supremacy.”
The states’ rights excuse means that many students in Texas learned an inaccurate account of the Civil War, including geography senior Samantha Tedford, a student assistant in the Multicultural Engagement Center.
“Romanticizing this idea of the South is actively hurting students of color,” Tedford said. “It is next to impossible to move on if we’re still denying certain events in history even occurred.”
Yet a McClatchy-Marist poll conducted this July indicated that only 54 percent of Americans believe schools should teach slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Texas schools’ decision to teach states’ rights as the main cause of the Civil War holds back education and justice and must change. Our university can be a great resource to help foster this change.
“The University exists in large part to help students understand their history,” Dorn said. “Students have a responsibility to educate themselves … about the parts of our history that we need to be proud of and the parts of our history we should not be proud of.”
If we wish to change the way our society treats its history and people of color, we cannot be content with removing statues alone. The justifications keeping them upright must fall as well.
Chase is a Plan II and economics junior from Royse City. Follow him on Twitter @alexwchase.