Austin Professor: Time for Lawmakers to Abolish Confederate Heroes Day

Last year the Texas Freedom Network joined scholars in calling on the State Board of Education to stop glorifying the Confederacy and Confederate heroes in public school history classrooms. We also advocated removing from the Texas Capitol a plaque that promoted the lie that the Confederacy didn’t fight to preserve the evil institution of slavery. In the following guest blog post, Bryan Register — an Austin Community College professor and founder of De-Confederate Austin — calls for abolishing Confederate Heroes Day as a state holiday. State Rep. Jarvis Johnson has filed a bill — HB1183 — that would do so. That bill has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. Dade Phelan.

One of Texas’ more obscure holidays is January 19, “Confederate Heroes Day”. It’s a day on which Texas honors “Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and other Confederate heroes”. “Confederate hero” is an oxymoron. You can be bold, tenacious, and decisive, and also not a hero.

The “Heritage, Not Hate” crowd who wants us to honor the racists and traitors in gray seem to confuse three things. First, there is ancestry. Second, there is boldness. Third, there is virtue.

The neo-Confederate web is replete with images of Confederate corpses or tombstones saying that these are why southerners need to honor our ancestors. But my slave-owning ancestors, and my ancestors in Confederate service, don’t become honorable just because their blood is in my veins. I don’t have the power to reach back across time and make them decent people. Being your ancestor doesn’t make someone honorable.

There’s no question but that Confederate soldiers struggled mightily and suffered greatly. They truly have my sympathy. So do German soldiers taken prisoner in Stalingrad who died in Soviet labor camps, and Soviet soldiers taken prisoner during Barbarossa who died in German labor camps. Also, those horrors don’t convert the Nazi or Soviet causes into anything noble, and they don’t make the soldiers on either side into heroes.

Being an ancestor of mine does not make a person honorable. Boldness and a willingness to sacrifice is honorable only if it is done on behalf of a cause that is itself honorable. The Confederate cause was slavery; that cause was dishonorable and so was each and every ancestor of ours who fought for it.

There can’t be a Confederate Heroes Day because there were no Confederate heroes. But having the day promulgates lies about what the Confederacy was, lies that still have effects in the present. After all, if there’s a Confederate Heroes Day, then there must have been Confederate Heroes, and if there were Confederate heroes, then the Confederacy must not have been dedicated to something dishonorable like slavery, and if the Confederacy was not dedicated to slavery, then surely there are no later institutions that employ any form of racism to their advantage. You can’t simultaneously accept Confederate Heroes Day and acknowledge that racism exists. And that, of course, is the point of the Day: to conceal our history to obscure our present so that we can repeat that history, which we do in the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, policing and judicial inequities… and the endless litany of brutal, racist injustice in our society.

Legislators: Abolish this obscene betrayal of history and our fellow Americans.