Photo: Brandon Price
Recently, a group of yokels gathered outside the statue of General Sam Houston located in Hermann Park. Armed to the teeth, white as a bass belly, and tiresome, they demonstrated lest someone try to remove the statues like other Confederate statues that had been recently removed in New Orleans.
There are a couple of problems with this. One, it was a troll; a classic chan op style raid that escaped out into Meat World. A bunch of right-wing annoyance-aficionados set up a fake account to mirror the local anti-fascist group Houston Antifa, claimed they were trying to remove the statue, and then staged a protest against the movement they themselves invented in order to LARP as freedom
riders fighters. Even a lot of the Houston media was duped, but my old buddy Craig Masilow has a good story if you want to details.
Second, anyone with a modicum of knowledge about Texas history, and as I recall that still makes up a big chunk of seventh grade here, would know that Houston is about as Confederate as Frederick Douglas or well-thought out military campaigns. Though a slave owner and not an abolitionist, he was emphatically opposed to the secession. When Texas joined the Confederacy, Houston, then the governor, refused to acknowledge it. He was finally evicted for not swearing an oath of loyalty to the new, and soon to be very short-lived, country. Houston wrote…
“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.”
But you know what? Let’s talk about the lingering monuments to the insanity that was the Southern attempt to hold onto slavery for as long as possible. There are plenty of things here in H-town ripe for destruction and renaming.
The most famous is the Spirit of the Confederacy, a beautiful if morally nauseating statue located, ironically, in Sam Houston Park. To quote our own city government website…
“It was erected in the park by the Robert E. Lee Chapter #186 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in January 1908. Its dedication states ‘To all heroes of the South who fought for the Principles of States Rights.’”
There is so much to unpack. The United Daughters of the Confederacy was the female wing of the Lost Cause, a long-running delusion the former Confederacy had that their reasoning for rebelling had something other than to do with owning black people. Basically, their job was to frame the rebellion in terms of the lives lost of their sons, fathers, and other male relatives to being crushed by the tyrannical Yankees. The fact that they would champion such a cause while naming their chapter after Robert E. Lee, whose bungled and overly aggressive generalship got lots of the boys in grey slaughtered, not to mention that the war was ultimately lost. All in the name of states’ rights… to, again, own other humans. This thing needs a hammer in the worst way.
There’s also the Dick Dowling statue in Hermann Park. Look, I will be the first to admit the phrase “magnificent bastard” was invented just for a dude like Dowling. He immigrated from Ireland, grew prosperous in the saloon business, brought gas lighting and founded Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. In the war, he led an audacious charge to repel a Union invasion with a crew consisting of Irish dockworkers in one of the most spectacular upsets of the war. The man was impressive, okay?
And I’m thinking that statue would be way more at home in a permanent exhibit somewhere in the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It’s high time that Houston did what it always should have done and make a home for the Civil War as a historical fact, not an artifice in our parks and streets. Let’s explore the war, all aspects of it, as a matter of record, and in a place where we can both appreciate Dowling for the adventurer he was as well as understand that he did that adventuring for a racist cause.
But take his street down. I’m sorry, but that time has passed. There is no reason on earth that we should continue to make people drive down streets honoring those who wouldn’t let our black population walk down them as free men. Streets get named and renamed all the time. Same with schools. How many people are out there sending their kids to schools renamed after Christa McAuliffe? Things change, and just because they do it doesn’t mean history is erased.
That seems to be the thing those angry about Confederate monument removal don’t seem to get. It’s not the destruction of history, but the facing of its impact on people up to the modern day. I remember when First Lady Michelle Obama said she woke up every morning in a house built by slaves, and while I don’t think that means we should tear down the White House, the fact that this occurred to her should give everyone pause.
Sam Houston realized that the Civil War was madness not worthy of us continuing to participate in. His city should remember that.