Jerry Patterson, Texas Land Commissioner
A request by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor their forefathers' service with a Texas license plate is a simple fundraising effort by a historical association with a long history of civic involvement.
Race-baiting and presidential politics, however, seem to play more of a role in the coverage of this issue than the actual facts. An upcoming vote by the governing board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has drawn political grandstanding and a petition drive. And that's too bad, because this issue would be well-served with more examination and less inflammation.
To begin, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a private nonprofit established in 1896, is requesting to pay for a license plate displaying its logo and name. The plate would be primarily for members of the organization, but it would be open to all Texans. The logo contains the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commonly known as the Confederate battle flag.
If the plate is approved, the Sons of Confederate Veterans would pay the State of Texas $8,000 for the right to have a plate, then recoup costs with each plate sold.
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I am proudly a member of the group; my great grandfather James Monroe Cole served in the Louisiana Infantry during the Civil War, died in the Texas Confederate Veterans Home and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
As a statewide elected official, I sponsored the plate because of my personal heritage and my commitment to Texas history - even the history that others might find offensive.
It's the same reason I sponsored a license plate to honor the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, another private nonprofit organization interested in marketing its heritage with a license plate that displays its logo and name.
Both plates represent private organizations proud of their history. Both are symbols for service to the state of Texas. But political correctness has warped perception of those ideas.
I am proud to support the Buffalo Soldiers license plate because these black troops deployed to the western frontier after the Civil War served with great distinction in Texas, including many early black recipients of the Medal of Honor.
But an examination of the Buffalo Soldiers' actions could easily offend anyone familiar with history. They were sent to Texas to implement a national policy of subjugation and enslavement of the Native American population, which is exactly what they did. Their fierce determination in the implementation of a national policy forced Indians on to reservations to live essentially as prisoners of war held by the U.S. government.
Is this a history of which we should be proud? Should these soldiers be commemorated on a license plate?
Of course they should. The Buffalo Soldier license plate, just like the Confederate plate, is intended to honor soldiers who served with pride and dignity in defense of Texas. That's all.
Viewed through our 21st century lens of political correctness, both the Buffalo and Confederate soldiers could be considered by some as having fought for a cause that fell short of the high moral ground. If you're looking to be offended, offensive behavior can be found throughout history.
There is no statutory protection against being offended. Actually, it's the privilege of every American to be offended.
And for those who believe every Confederate soldier was fighting to perpetuate slavery, I'll end with the quote of one of the greatest Americans of all time.
"There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil ... we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers," Robert E. Lee, while stationed in Texas before the Civil War in 1856, wrote.
Patterson is the Texas land commissioner.