Austin teen fights for more inclusive Civil War holiday

Mark Wiggins, KVUE
February 13, 2015

AUSTIN — When it comes to politics, there's no age limit on participating in one way or another.

Austin eighth-grader Jacob Hale rarely visits his locker, carrying most of what he needs for school in his backpack. Yet unlike most 13-year-olds, he's gotten a state legislator to help him carry something a little bigger.

"I was following the debate over Confederate license plates last year and I discovered we have a holiday called Confederate Heroes Day," Hale told KVUE Friday.

The state holiday was created in 1931 to celebrate Robert E. Lee's birthday and consolidated in 1973 to include Jefferson Davis' birthday. It falls each year on Jan. 19, which just so happens to occasionally coincide with a holiday that falls on the third Monday of January — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

"I think it's ironic that we celebrate MLK Day, where we're supposed to be celebrating racial progress and the fight for equality, but then also we have Confederate Heroes Day which acknowledges the men who fought for slavery as heroes," said Hale.

Spurred to action, Hale drafted up a bill with the help of a relative that would move the holiday to the second Monday in May and change the name to "Civil War Remembrance Day." Then Hale submitted an article to newspapers across the state in support of his idea for a holiday that would commemorate Confederate and Union dead, as well as slaves.

"We also need to remember the Confederacy because that's a huge part of Texas history, but we shouldn't just single out the Confederacy and recognize them as heroes when a lot of what is associated with the Confederacy is not heroic," he said.

After taking the idea to lawmakers, Hale found a supporter in his own local state representative. With few tweaks, state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) filed the bill as House Bill 1242.

But Texas' ties to the Confederacy run deep.

"Over 70,000 Texans fought for the confederate nation," said Marshall Davis, state communications director for the Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

"I think a Civil War remembrance day is a wonderful thing to have for the state of Texas, however I do not feel we should lose Confederate Heroes Day," said Davis. "The men who joined the north from Texas were ultimately traitors."

"Whether you support the war or not, you should honor the veterans. The same applies to the Vietnam War," Davis said by way of example. "Whether you support or don't support the idea of the Vietnam War, you still need to honor the veterans that fought for their country in that war."

Davis suggests the coincidence of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the Confederate holiday is "an excellent way to live Dr. King's dream of tolerance and diversity." On the role slavery played in war, both sides have long accused the other of trying to rewrite history.

"The war between the states was not about slavery," Davis said flatly. "It was about state's rule and economics."

"The history kind of wrote itself in 1861," Hale said, before selecting a passage from a well-studied copy of the state's 1861 Declaration of Causes for secession.

"'…Based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color — a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law,'" Hale read, "As if that's a bad thing."

The bill will be debated in the halls of power, but Hale's experience is proof that whatever halls one walks, there's no age limit on having your voice heard.

"Everyone has a voice, really," said Hale.

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