By Robert Stacy McCain
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The plaque in the foyer of the Texas Supreme Court cited a commander’s praise for the fighting ability of the Lone Star State’s troops.
"I rely on Texas regiments in all tight places, and fear I have to call upon them too often. They have fought grandly, nobly."
The words of Gen. Robert E. Lee, praising Hood’s Texas Brigade, which at various times included regiments from Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia, are no longer displayed in Austin. The plaque was one of two Confederate markers removed from the state Supreme Court building in June 2000.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans blame George W. Bush, governor of Texas at the time.
"It wasn’t until the governor ran for president that those plaques became an issue for anybody," says Texas SCV spokesman Marshall Davis. The order for the plaques’ removal "came from the governor’s office, without going through the legislature, the people of Texas or the Texas Historical Commission."
The state NAACP raised objections to the plaques in January 2002. Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the plaques "hate symbols."
That demand was initially rebuffed by the governor’s office.
"These symbols and emblems reflect the history and diversity that make Texas unique," an executive assistant to Mr. Bush wrote in a February letter to NAACP. But a month later, Mr. Bush told reporters he was "looking at that issue."
Then, on a weekend in June 2000, in what one Texas SCV member at the time called "a back-door ploy in the dark at night," the plaques were removed without any public comment from the governor or from his presidential campaign.
A spokesman for the governor’s office issued a press release saying the change was meant to "help assure all Texans that our courts provide fair and impartial justice."
The SCV is pursuing a lawsuit against the state over the removal of the plaques from the Supreme Court building, which was built in 1954 with revenue left over from Texas’ Confederate Pension Fund. In March, a district judge ruled against the SCV, which is appealing.
The 2000 order to remove the plaques was surprising, Mr. Marshall says, considering Mr. Bush’s stance on the Confederate flag in South Carolina.
"I believe the people of South Carolina can figure out what to do with this flag issue," Mr. Bush said Jan. 7, 2000, drawing cheers and applause from Republicans at a presidential debate in West Columbia, S.C.
"I was impressed by Governor Bush," Mr. Marshall says of the South Carolina remarks. "That’s states’ rights. That’s what the whole war was about."
Laura Bush also defended the flag in January 2000: "It’s not a symbol of racism to me. I grew up in the South, like everyone else here in Texas. And it’s just a symbol of a time in our history that we can’t erase really, the Civil War."
Mr. Bush’s decisive South Carolina primary win over Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, was crucial to the Texas governor’s Republican nomination campaign. In contrast to Mr. Bush’s position, Mr. McCain offended some Confederate heritage activists.
"The Confederate flag is offensive in many, many ways, as we all know. It’s a symbol of racism and slavery," the Arizona Republican told CBS News on Jan. 9, 2000.
In Texas, Confederate heritage is still under attack, Mr. Marshall says, citing plans by the University of Texas to relocate several monuments at the entrance of its Austin campus. Statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders were erected in the 1920s with a $250,000 bequest from university trustee George Littlefield, who had been a Confederate cavalry officer.
"I think the pendulum of political correctness is way past the center," Mr. Marshall says. "I think the current administration is not taking strides to correct that."