A License Plate for Confederate Soldiers? Let’s Honor Those Who Fought a More Noble Cause

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The current proposed Texas license plate honoring Confederate Veterans.

Courtesy / Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

The Texas license plate honoring Confederate Veterans proposed by the Sons of the Confederacy.

Perhaps it’s a sign of how desperate they are that the Sons of the Confederacy’s second attempt to get a Texas license plate honoring Confederate soldiers features as its sponsor Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, the clown prince of Texas politics.

Ag. Comm. Sid Miller

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller

Miller has been a constant embarrassment to the Texas Republican Party. There were the personal trips he speciously billed to the state as official business or to his campaign fund – one to Oklahoma to get a “Jesus shot” billed by a doctor (and only that doctor) as forever curing pain, the other to Mississippi to compete in a rodeo.

There were the outrageous social media postings, such as a cartoon showing a nuclear explosion, with the suggestion that it had worked with Japan and perhaps should be tried in the Middle East. Or the tweet on his official account calling Hillary Clinton a crude word for the female sex organ.

And there are the instances of his phony “news” stories such as a doctored picture of President Barack Obama holding a Che Guevara T-shirt. This was just one of 10 false postings by Miller or his aides found by the Texas Tribune over a two-year period.

Groups are required to get a state official to sponsor proposed license plates. It’s too bad the Sons couldn’t find a more respectable one. Theirs is, so far, a lost cause to celebrate the men they consider heroes of the Lost Cause.

The previously proposed Texas license plate honoring Confederate Veterans.

Courtesy / Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

The 2011 proposed Texas license plate honoring Confederate Veterans.

The Sons lost their first battle when the board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles took up their application back in 2011. At first the board deadlocked 4-4 on the request, and decided to wait until then-Gov. Rick Perry filled a board vacancy to vote again. But after an outcry from the public and an apparent nod from Perry, the board voted unanimously to nix the plate.

“We don’t need to be scraping old wounds,” Perry said.

But the battle wasn’t over. The Sons sued on First Amendment grounds. Of course, the ancestors they celebrate went to war to keep 4 million slaves from having this and other rights guaranteed by the Constitution. But the First Amendment covers a multitude of sins, including both irony and hypocrisy.

(If you are one of those citizens who remember being taught that Texas’ entry into the Civil War was not about slavery, don’t make a public fool of yourself without reading the official reasons for secession as laid out in 1861 by the State of Texas. They are made clear in “A declaration of the causes which impel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union.”

The license plate question is a close one. Does the state have the right to censor what is on its license plates based upon point of view? A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of the Sons of the Confederacy.

But the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. In an equally close 5-4 decision in 2015 it ruled that license plates amount to speech by the government, not by the citizens. And the government cannot be forced to publish views with which it disagrees.

The Sons can’t expect the new Supreme Court to overrule the earlier decision. The swing vote who joined the four liberal members three years ago wasn’t those justices' most frequent ally, Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom conservative Brett Kavanaugh recently replaced. It was, surprisingly, the very conservative Justice Clarence Thomas.

But the decision won’t be made at the Supreme Court. The high court did not bar states from celebrating the Confederacy on their license plates, and a number still do. It said they can’t be required to.

So the decision will be made by the current board of the Department of Motor Vehicles, a board appointed entirely or mostly by Gov. Greg Abbott. It has no black members.

Abbott has not taken a position on the proposed license plate. As attorney general, he supported Perry and the board’s position opposing the Sons in the Supreme Court case.

Abbott, however, has stood against removing statues honoring Confederate figures, suggesting that it is erasing history, albeit a history that “isn’t perfect.”

"If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it,” he said. “Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won't erase our nation's past, and it doesn't advance our nation's future. As Governor, I will advance that future through peace, not violence, and I will do all I can to keep our citizens safe.”

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference at the Majestic Theatre before the George Strait concert.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Gov. Greg Abbott

But Confederate statues and plaques, the naming of schools and streets after Confederate leaders, and license plates don’t teach history. They honor a one-sided version of history. If Abbott and the rest of our leadership really wanted to prevent the repetition of the past, they would actively push for a more complete, accurate, and instructive version of our history.

They would demand a school curriculum that not only taught such documents as the declaration of the causes of secession to which I linked above. It would be a curriculum that detailed the savagery of slavery, the capture and rendition of more than 1 million humans from their homes in Africa, the horrible conditions in which they were shipped and sold, the torture they suffered if they attempted to flee to freedom.

It would be a curriculum that taught that the concept that slavery is evil is not a modern notion, that nearly all civilized nations but the United States had outlawed it before our Civil War.

It would be a curriculum that fully taught how through the actions of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups and through the actions of our elected officials in defiance of Presidents Lincoln and Grant and their agents, freed slaves were returned to virtual slavery by vigilante terrorism and by Jim Crow acts of the legislatures.

And, although this defies imagination, our civic societies would advocate for statues, plaques, and perhaps license plates that would celebrate other heroes of another lost cause. These are the freed slaves who rose up in leadership and white men and women who, as federal agents and as private citizens and church leaders, fought without success to promote the full citizenship of freed slaves and other blacks during Reconstruction.

Their reward: More than a few were murdered and others fled in fear. They were branded as carpetbaggers and scalawags and as traitors to their race.

If we honor the men who lost the war, we should also honor the men and women who lost the peace.

16 thoughts on “A License Plate for Confederate Soldiers? Let’s Honor Those Who Fought a More Noble Cause

  1. The Confederates were on the WRONG side of America. Sad that so many died protecting their right to enslave their fellow humans. Shame for them. Do not honor such human depravity.

  2. At least two of my Virginian ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and I believe that their service was honorable, though the cause was not. One was a POW at Appomattox, and the other at Point Lookout, Maryland. I would like to turn back the clock and talk with those Christian gentlemen about slavery and war and the Confederacy, but I cannot. Nevertheless, I can make sure that my grandchildren understand that slavery was, and is, evil, and that thinking people need to be on constant guard against such evils. I can also express my apologies to my black friends and acquaintances for the injustices done by my ancestors to theirs. No license plate or bumper sticker can do that for me.

    • Thank you Tom, a great response for those whose family history doesn’t go back to that sad time in US History, I am sure their country of origin has the same sad history and many still enslave people. I would never dream of having that plate on my car but I do own that my great-grandfather fought in that war, which thankfully ended with the end to slavery in our country. There was so much more that followed and racism is still alive and well in the US. We have much work to do.
      I do think if we erase that history, no matter how offending it is, we are doomed to repeat it.

  3. To suggest that the Civil War was a “black or white” event, a good vs. evil war, a single dimension tear in the fabric of our country is as low and disgusting as someone who really did support slavery. It’s honestly too bad that you cannot look at the context of the time to understand what the Civil War was about, and why those who fought in it did so.

    Slavery was but an aspect of the Civil War. Sure, some fought for slavery. But you had more that fought because they didn’t want those “damned yankees” coming in and telling them how to live their lives. Mind you, I was born in the North, and thus qualify as one of those “damned yankees”. You had people like Jack Hinson who joined the Confederacy out of vengeance for the atrocities of the Union. In his case, this was the slaughter of his innocent sons who were obviously neutral. You had those fighting against the imbalance of power in the federal arena. And then there were those “industrial” groups in the North who were attempting to dictate, and setting legislation against the South trading with certain countries and entities instead of the South selling their agricultural and farming products at a lesser price to the North.

    If you think the North was anti-slavery, then the public school system has done its job. The “Great Emancipator” didn’t own slaves, but he didn’t think very highly of the black man, or the red man. My father’s ancestors were still subhuman to him. The original main debate was not “IF” there was going to be slaves, but “HOW” additional slaves were going to be obtained. The North didn’t want any more brought over, but were fine with the breeding of my father’s ancestors to keep a steady population of enslaved labor. The South found it cheaper to import them from Africa instead of breeding and raising. The North, who was more industrialized, decided to use slavery as a weapon to break the South. Even after the Emancipation Act, the North, who had more slaves than the South ever did, kept their slaves for a bit longer. It was not an immediate “turn them loose” like it was in the South.

    Now of course, this is just a brief touch of SOME of the aspects of the Civil War just to show you that it isn’t as cut-n-dry that you make it out to be. So how about stopping with the “holier than thou” act. You blatantly showed your ignorance about our country’s history in perpetuating a great lie. I understand if history is not your forte, but if you are going to write about it, then do some damned unbiased research instead of showing your ignorance.

    • Speaking of ignorance. The South said over and over again that it was seceeding in order to preserve slavery. To pretend it was only one of many issues is being disingenuous. Were there other issues? Sure Did they weigh near as much in the Souths’s deciding to seceede? Not at all.

  4. man, Rivard is taking a hard swing left just before the midterms. Election interference?

    Why can’t people just respect the dead? If a grand total of 15 people want to get a confederate license plate, let them. Who cares. You don’t know everyone’s reasons for fighting in that war- many joined because they were starving on failing farms at home! Stop the revisionist history and just get over it. It’s history, whether you like it or not.

  5. For once we are in agreement. The Civil War was fought because people like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee became traitors along with supporters of slavery.
    We should never honor criminals!

  6. Is the Rivard Report commentary staff unable to critique an issue without invoking personal attacks?

    I don’t support a Confederate flag plate, but I’d probably be able to make that case without a lead-in, 5-paragraph ad hominem attack.

    There might be something relevant to the issues further down, but I simply never got there – because I am increasingly weary of garbage journalism.

    “Groups are required to get a state official to sponsor proposed license plates. It’s too bad the Sons couldn’t find a more respectable one.” Why? Would a more charismatic spokesman, without baggage, change the facts? Would you then support the issue because you like the spokesman?

    This appears to be de rigeur nowadays, particularly here. Is it any wonder that journalism is in a state of decline?

    How about giving the personal attacks a rest, and raise the tenor of journalism, just a bit?

  7. Didn’t confederate soldiers take an oath of allegiance to the Union after the war? Why then, is the confederate glorified? I guess the allegiance was done with their fingers crossed behind their backs.

  8. I find myself at a crossroads. Namely, should I continue to read the Rivard Report and donating, or simply accept it has become drivel for the left, devoid of the impressive journalism that caught my attention? I read if often, in fact, most days.

    But this article/opinion is a low point and will likely cause me to move along. That’s sad, considering my other option is the Express-News which is not better.

    I understand if Mr. Casey does not agree with the use of state resources to commemorate those who fought and lost the Civil War. I also agree a racist perspective has no place in society.

    However, this is not an opinion piece and certainly not journalism. At best, its pure politics. There is plenty of it anywhere you look. And before anyone complains about my perspective, this same kind of foolishness exists on the right. My point is it has no place in journalism.

    The entire article basically comes down to, “My name is Rick Casey and I hate Republicans”. Fine, then just say it on social media and stop wasting our time.

    No mention of the above mentioned board having a Hispanic chair and vice-chair. Nope. No mention of the Governor’s actual stance on this, just supposition.

    Why is it no longer possible to advocate an opinion based on fact and reason without attacking a political adversary? For many of us who live life comfortably outside of the political bubble, common sense and reason still rule the day.

    I would ask Mr. Rivard if this is truly how he would like to grow his reader/donor base.

    • Emilio,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It’s important to note that this is a column and columns take on the tone of their columnists. While our columnists – and some of our commentaries – tend to wade into various ways of thinking, we believe it’s important to provide opinions as diverse as the city in which we live. If we only wrote things with which you or others agree, then we wouldn’t be doing our job, and I honestly believe you as a reader wouldn’t respect us much.

      On a daily, heck, hourly basis, we try very hard to provide unbiased, fact-based news that matters to the community. Knowledge is the key to a productive society and it provokes emotions and opinions and conversations like the one we’re engaged in right now. We welcome yours and all the other thoughtful comments that come to us because it helps us understand our community and it helps us do our job. And our job is to provide community journalism to help make San Antonio a better place. One column doesn’t change that mission and I can promise we’ll probably print many more things with which you and others disagree. That keeps the conversation going and conversation is the basis for real change.

      We hope you’ll remain with us because of the strong work of our reporters as a whole.

      Thanks again for the comment,

      Graham Watson-Ringo
      Managing Editor
      Rivard Report

      • Graham,

        I want to be clear. I don’t think writing from a certain perspective is a problem. All journalism takes on the flavor of the writer and editorial staff. I read the New York Times while rarely agreeing with it. I rarely read Foxnews.com because it’s too slanted and has little journalistic value. I still vote for conservative candidates. I can digest information and reach my own conclusion.

        My issue is this article could have been written without mention of Commissioner Miller and Governor Abbott. That they became such a big part of the text means this was not about the possibility of license plates honoring the losing side in a war over slavery. Mr. Casey made his points based on politics, not reason.

        He may disagree with my belief regarding the need for politics in this case. But I find that it rarely helps when talking about such subjects. I’m not naive. I just find that yelling does not convince someone that slavery and racism are bad.

        I read the Rivard Report because, while it does touch on politics, my experience has been it does so when politics is the central theme. When it is not related, the reporting has been clear about tangential political issues that may interest the reader.

        In short, politics is not everything. I would simply ask the editorial staff to keep that in mind.

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