In Texas, history is still a battleground in culture wars

Tuesday, Apr. 05, 2011
By Bud Kennedy

PALESTINE — Two of Texas’ ugliest racial atrocities were a massacre in Anderson County in East Texas and the complete expulsion of African-Americans from Comanche County out west.

So when Confederate heritage groups started celebrating their unofficial "history month" on April 1, guess which two Texas courthouses flew the rebel nation’s flag?

Old times are not forgotten in rural Texas. But at least in Anderson County and Palestine, the historic county seat, some leaders showed Monday that they really want to try.

Only a week after the Texas House recognized the African-Americans in Anderson County who were chased away or killed a century ago in what is now known as the Slocum Massacre, Palestine’s mayor and City Council voted to recommend that the Sons of Confederate Veterans camp take down a Confederate flag it had raised at the courthouse.

Most of the 100 Palestine residents at a specially called council meeting leaped to their feet and cheered when Mayor Bob Herrington read a note: "The flag is down!"

A few blocks away, in front of the courthouse, about 20 Sons lingered after pulling down the flag — the stars-and-bars First National flag, not the battle flag — and singing Dixie. "We decided to take it down ourselves instead of letting someone else do it," said Doug Smith of Palestine. He blamed Dallas TV news reports for "blowing this into a racial confrontation." But Herrington and council members of all colors said they wanted the flag down not because of complaints but because it’s bad for city unity and business success.

Nobody questioned the county’s role in Confederate history as the home of former cabinet official John H. Reagan and more than 1,000 war veterans.

But that history belongs with Texas’ other past flags at a memorial or museum, not flying over the courthouse.

The same Palestine historians who supported flying the Confederate flag seem resistant to studying the Slocum Massacre. The chairman of the county historical commission, Jimmy R. Odom, went to the observance in Austin. But he said he has never seen any documentation other than the recent coverage in Texas papers and The New York Times, "and that’s not enough."

At the Museum of East Texas Culture, Director Dan Dyer said he has "nothing" about the unpunished slaughter and expulsion of Slocum’s African-American residents, because — gosh, "there has not been anybody here bring that up."

The Texas House resolution called for "shining a light" on the killings.

Some prefer to look away.

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