Texas neo-Confederates are erecting a huge new monument commemorating their Civil War heroes, even as the state struggles to come to terms with its racist past.
Politico spoke to members of the Texas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans -- a group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says is led by "racial extremists" -- about their plans to glorify the South's role in the Civil War and to defiantly fly the Confederate flag.
Over the last few years, particularly in the wake of the murder of 9 black South Carolina churchgoers by white supremacist Dylann Roof, the Confederate Flag has become increasingly controversial. Black Americans and other civil rights advocates find the flag offensive due to its adoption by anti-integration Southerners in the 1960s as a means of demonstrating their animus toward racial equality.
Neo-Confederates like the SCV claim they are simply celebrating their heritage by flying the flag, but critics have pointed out that celebrating a heritage of racism and the subjugation of black citizens is increasingly out-of-step with the culture at large.
Politico said that Texas currently has 178 "publicly sponsored symbols honoring the Confederacy...including monuments, schools and roads dedicated to Confederate icons."
In the East Texas town of Orange, the SCV are putting the finishing touches on the Confederate Memorial of the Wind, a sprawling structure featuring "13 large Greek columns and 26–32 Confederate flags." It will be the largest pro-Confederacy monument the state has produced in more than a century and it will sit at the intersection of the heavily-traveled Interstate 10 and Orange's Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
In July of 2015, Texas Democrats addressed a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus -- all Republicans -- saying that the dozens of pro-Confederacy monuments, statues and flags at the state capitol in Austin "espouse a whitewashed version of history.”
Only Straus responded to the letter, saying that the state will review the "historical intent and significance" of the monuments and present those findings to the state's board of historical preservation.
Texas SCV official Jim Toungate told Politico's John Savage, "I had five grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy, and they were religious people who didn't treat black people badly. They were fighting for states’ rights, not slavery.”
This is a common canard among white nationalists and historical revisionists, the claim that human slavery was just an incidental concern of Southerners fighting to break away from the United States to form their own nation. Historians have pointed out again and again that the right to own other human beings as chattel was a key concern of Confederate leaders, no matter what their modern cosplaying counterparts may say.
“Thirty thousand blacks fought for the Confederacy because they loved their masters,” Toungate insisted. To him, this is irrefutable proof that “slavery could not have caused the war.”
Historian Kevin Levin told Savage that Toungate's claims are just "another myth."
Texas declaration of secession from the United States expressly includes an article under which African-Americans are "rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race.”
Nowhere in the document is any mention of tariffs, Savage said, "or any state right other than the right to own black people."
When confronted with these facts, Toungate waved them away by saying Northern historians have "distorted" the historical view of the Confederacy.
Savage pointed out that these are source documents, the words of the actual Confederates themselves.
"Toungate went silent for a beat," Savage said, "and then changed the subject. 'I'm sick of the federal government wasting money,' he said, and 'people living off welfare.'”