Saturday, August 5, 2017

Confederate Monument as a Monument to Education

William Murchison and those arguing to preserve Dallas Confederate monuments are right, but for the wrong reasons. They argue about the value of Civil War History. Any message these monuments have about Civil War History is greatly overshadowed by the message they have about Dallas History. 

The Civil War is only a part of that message. What was happening in Dallas as these
Confederate names and memorials were dedicated from 1927 to 1956 is the reason they must be preserved. The issue is education about Dallas History!  These monuments tell the story of the at-times violent struggle as Dallas was pushed toward ending "Separate but Equal." This evidence must not be destroyed or hidden but must be moved out of places of public respect and into museums that can properly tell a very painful history surrounding these statues.  It must be done in an accurate historical context reflecting the suffering they were used to justify and continue.  The rest of Dallas History is reflected in the abusive segregation these monuments were intended to continue!

The first Confederate Monument, and the largest in Dallas, was more definitely a memorial. Many Civil War Veterans were at that 1897 dedication. That was less of a reality at the 1936 dedication of the Lee Statue dedicated within that 29 year period from 1927 to 1956.  This time period was when 5 easily identifiable Confederate names, plus 4 other names of leaders who served in the Confederacy, were given DISD schools. This was allegedly to remember a war that ended in 1865, 62 years before the first Dallas school was given a Confederate name. The same process happened in most southern cities during roughly the same 29 year period leading up to the end of legal segregation. If these were really attempts to honor Civil War heroes across the U.S., why only during this 29 year period out of the last 152 years? 

(On Sunday 8-6-17 the Points section had a front page article titled "Dallas' Confederate memorials scream 'white supremacy'" in the online version, by Professor Michael Phillips and Edward Sebasta.  That article named an additional 6 schools in Dallas whose names I had not noted.  One of those was from 1913, Oran M. Roberts Elementary.  Another was from 1981, John H. Reagan. I question the public identifying all 6 of these names as "Confederate" representatives, though they did serve in the Confederacy.) 

These reminders of Confederate History were used to intimidate minorities in the fight to keep our cities and schools racially segregated. That fight was becoming more intense since the 1909 founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP. Within four years the NAACP was first mentioned in the Dallas Morning News. In 1929 the Dallas Chapter was founded. By the 1950's the NAACP was in the news monthly.

At the same time, opposition to the NAACP thrived. In 1923 the KKK Texas Fair Day set attendance records for any weekday up to that time. That night 6,000 new KKK members joined. In 1927 the first two Confederate-named DISD schools opened: Robert E. Lee Elementary and Sidney Lanier Elementary.

By 1929 KKK membership was declining with the active help of the Dallas Morning News reporting on the violence. Another group was taking over with less violent tactics for the same goal, the Dallas White Citizens Council, now the Dallas Citizens Council.

In 1936 the Robert E. Lee Statue was dedicated. Stonewall Jackson Elementary opened in 1940, Jefferson Davis Elementary opened in 1952 (renamed Barbara Jordan in 1999), and finally John B. Hood opened in 1956 (renamed Piedmont in 2016.).

In 1954 segregation was declared illegal in the Brown vs. Board of Education Court Decision. Using Confederate names and memorials across the US quickly stopped. No new easily recognizable Confederate-named schools can be found as having opened anywhere after 1959. (In Dallas John H. Reagan school was opened in 1981, but how many recognize him as a Confederate hero?)

In 1966 a book titled "Education in Dallas, 1974 to 1966" was published with a very unusual report on the desegregation process in Dallas ISD.  It said on page 159: "Desegregation of the Dallas Schools was accomplished in the course of ten short years with a minimum of commotion and stress. This may be viewed as just short of miraculous."

But as this book was published in 1966 White flight started in Dallas Public Schools. The record 1965 White enrollment of 127,124 dropped by 1,456 in 1966, beginning a 44-year process of loss with the largest loss being over 9,000 White students in 1971. By 2009 White Flight stopped with only 7,207 White students left in DISD. 120,000 White students had left.

During White flight the highest total DISD enrollment was 173,799 in 1970 and the lowest was 127,462 in 1984.

These monuments say much more about the local wars before integration was legally required in Dallas than they ever said about the Civil War. They reflect Dallas leaders fighting to preserve a segregated Dallas, failing, and the White flight that followed.

Now within a decade of White flight ending there are plans to move, change, or otherwise hide the Confederate memorials and names. It is like covering up all the “Colored Only” signs at the water fountains in the Records Building. It is hiding the heritage of abuse too many in Dallas are still forced to suffer, either as perpetrator or victim. Some want to lie about it and claim it never happened. Others are angry about those lies. Either way, we are suffering.

Denial is not the way to heal. Hiding Confederate memorials is not the way to heal. Both the monuments and the name changing process in our schools can become roads to education and healing.

Students in every Confederate-named school should first vote about the name change. This is a learning opportunity. Students must know the segregated schools these names were intended to defend. A super-majority of 80% of students should be required before the name can change. Until then the lesson has not been learned. Do not rush name changes. This will be a lesson that students study over several years. They will remember what a super-majority is also.

This is also an opportunity for students to study history. On Sunday 8-6-17 the Points section had a front page article titled "Dallas' Confederate memorials scream 'white supremacy'" in the online version, by Professor Michael Phillips and Edward Sebasta. It was an excellent article about the true meaning of these memorials. That article named an additional 6 schools in Dallas whose names I had not noted.  One of those was from 1913, Oran M. Roberts Elementary.  Another was from 1981, John H. Reagan. I question the public identifying all 6 of these names as "Confederate" representatives, though they did serve in the Confederacy, but this would be an excellent issue for our students to form opinions on and vote about as they get to know the people for whom their school was named after. 

At the Confederate Monuments Dallas must allow historians and artists to compete to show a more complete Dallas Civil Rights History. It is overdue! New monuments must interact with the old, affirming progress made against segregation. The ongoing equality struggle must be shown as both victorious and still active. History is the best tool. Dates and facts must be posted at the monument that are not yet well known in our history but that clearly indicate these truths.

(I no longer agree with much of what I have written here, especially what follows.  I had underestimated the continuing racism in Dallas that was more than blatantly obvious at hearings and public gatherings I participated in since writing this. Sadly I was one of the first speakers in a City Council meeting and then sat to listen to 50 additional speakers. By the time the last speaker spoke I realized I had been blatantly wrong!  The statues MUST come down. NOW!  At gatherings near the Lee statue I also had some in the crowd speak with me not knowing me and presuming all Whites were blatantly racist. I could say nothing but should have. I never realized how protective living 43 years in South Oak Cliff had been.)

Is Dallas strong enough to post more dates and facts from this painful time on a new Monument to Education near the Lee Statue on an identical, but taller, base in Lee Park?  

An integrated 6th grade class and their teacher, identical in design to the Lee statue but 20% larger in scale, would be standing on the new monument base looking at the Lee statue.  The Black male teacher appears to be speaking, maybe about history.  The gaze of General Lee would be focused on a Black male student in the class. The teacher would be looking down at Lee and gesturing toward him respectfully.

Reverend Peter Johnson, the organizer assigned to Dallas by Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960’s, has agreed to allow his image to be used as the teacher. He is now teaching a Dallas Civil Rights class at UNT-Dallas.

The focus by Robert E. Lee on the Black male student in the Monument to Education would affirm the sentiment Mr. Murchison wrote about regarding the healing Lee sought after the Civil War.  

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