Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Confederate Battle Flag and Buffalo Soldiers Are Equally Controversial?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 16, 2011

A while ago I did a short post on the proposed SCV Texas license plate. Although the purpose is ostensibly to honor Confederate veterans, it really does seem to me to be more about raising the visibility of the organization. Given that the entire design of the plate consisting of the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans” and the organization logo, I argued that “seems more like flashy historical exhibitionism than respectful recognition.” I still think that; if the SCV wants exposure, they can sell bumper stickers or rent a billboard.

As I noted earlier, the arguments of both those who support the move and those against it are mostly predictable, tired repetition. But Jerry Patterson, the State Land Commissioner, recently published an editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that made a different argument:

As a statewide elected official, I sponsored the [SCV] plate because of my personal heritage and my commitment to Texas history — even the history others might find offensive.

It’s the same reason I sponsored a license plate to honor the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, another private, nonprofit organization interested in marketing its heritage with a license plate that displays its logo and name.

Both plates represent private organizations proud of their history. Both are symbols for larger ideas. But political correctness has warped perception of those ideas.

I am proud to support the Buffalo Soldiers license plate because these black troops deployed to the Western frontier after the Civil War served with great distinction in Texas. They included many early black recipients of the Medal of Honor.

But an examination of the Buffalo Soldiers’ actions could easily offend anyone familiar with history. They were sent to Texas on a mission to subjugate and enslave the American Indian population, which is exactly what they did. Their fierce determination forced Indians into reservations to live essentially as prisoners of war held by the U.S. government.

Is this a history of which we should be proud? Should these soldiers be commemorated on a license plate?

Of course they should. The Buffalo Soldier license plate, just like the Confederate plate, is intended to honor soldiers who served with pride and dignity in defense of Texas. That’s all.

In the end, offensive behavior can be found throughout history if you’re looking to be offended.

This strike me as the thinnest, superficial equivalence. It’s one that sounds reasonable, but it doesn’t bear closer examination. Does Patterson really suppose that the Buffalo Soldiers are generally held with the same disdain that the Confederacy is, by as many? Or that the Buffalo Soldiers, as a group, are singled out for opprobrium than, say the U.S. military of the Indian Wars period generally? More than George Custer or James Forsyth? Does Patterson not recognize that much of the objection to the plate is the prominence of the Confederate Battle Flag — central to the SCV emblem — on it? The SCV has spent much of its time and energy over the years by promoting in-your-face displays of the CBF, demanding its display as a protected by the First Amendment, while at the same time trying to censor uses of the flag it finds offensive (MP3)? One wonders how much lasting good the SCV might have done with those “heritage defense” resources if they’d been put into educational programming and site preservation programs.

Patterson’s analogy also strikes me as a too-facile approach, countering opposition from (in part) African American groups by showing that black history has been recognized in the same way. It’s counter-point, more than a justification that stands on its own.

I used to know Jerry Patterson, very slightly, years ago when he was a state senator. (We were both members of a local historical society.) He’s always seemed to be a good guy, and completely self-effacing, a rare attribute in an ambitious pol. And I think he’s done a fair job as Land Commissioner, which is about the best elected job in the state for a history buff like him. But this analogy, I just don’t get.

Is there a better argument that I’m missing?

___________
Image: Display at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Houston, Texas, June 2011.

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6 Responses

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  1. focusoninfinity said, on July 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I’m North Carolina SCV, but a non-ideologue one. I have seven Confederate ancestors, but I didn’t choose my ancestors. If one was Union, I’d join the Union organization too.

    At a local SCV meeting, one of our projects was to locate un-marked Confederate graves and get a free U.S. government Confederate tombstone. I favored it, adding; if there is an un-marked Union grave among them, we can hand that paperwork in at the same time. OH NO, that would be traitorous to what our people died for.

    All four of my grandparents did not like Negros, but none expressed hatred of our Union (little ‘u’ unions, yes) and three were the children of Confederate veterans, and one was a grandson of a Confederate vet.

    I was in the U.S. Horse Cavalry Assn. and although “Buffalo Soldier” yellow-legs were in the minority, they were amongst the more interesting members, and as friendly as any.

    At one time I had a N.C. SCV tag which featured our SCV logo specifically, and indirectly, generally honored the memory of Confederate soldiers and sailors. If the Military Order of the Stars & Bars (descendants of CSA officers; I was once in that also) wanted to also honor Confederate veterans; as an SCV I’d have no objection.

    The SCV has an INCLUSIVE PLATE, not an EXCLUSIVE PATENT, honoring our Confederate Veterans.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 16, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      At a local SCV meeting, one of our projects was to locate un-marked Confederate graves and get a free U.S. government Confederate tombstone. I favored it, adding; if there is an un-marked Union grave among them, we can hand that paperwork in at the same time. OH NO, that would be traitorous to what our people died for.

      That’s asinine. My local SCV group, which I presented to a couple of times years ago on an archaeological project I was working with at the time, did a lot of grave-marking projects. The closest SUV camp in Houston did, too, but I think in both cases that was because one of the people spearheading the project was a member of both camps, and spent a lot of time trying to get them to work together. I don’t know how (or if) they would have made the effort without that particular individual’s involvement.

      The SCV has an INCLUSIVE PLATE, not an EXCLUSIVE PATENT, honoring our Confederate Veterans.

      That’s a good way to look at it.

  2. Lyle Smith said, on July 16, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Andy,

    I’m not sure he’s trying to make a like for like analogy to soften the impact of an SCV license plate. Maybe he is, but I’m not totally sure by what is written above.

    I do think his mention of the Buffalo soldiers being controversial is simply to point to the fact that certain Native Americans and their fellow travelers can’t abide any kind of pro U.S.-history when it comes to Indian removal, etc… A majority of Native Americans (pure speculation on my part) probably don’t have one negative feeling about Buffalo soldiers or even George Custer, but some certainly do and those are the people he’s attempting to finger by analogy.

    Again, I would argue that it isn’t a like for like analogy, but I do understand what he’s trying to say.

    It’s like Professor Simpson’s Lakota Sioux academic friend. If she could spit in a Buffalo Soldier’s face today, I think she might would do such a thing. Then again maybe she wouldn’t and would have pity for them because they were black, and were discriminated against by whites. I have no idea, but the Land Commissioner is getting at the people who would argue that instead of remembering these people you should be ashamed of them because it offends the offended’s particular view of history. The reason why fewer are offended by Buffalo soldiers or the U.S. cavalry, is simply because there aren’t that many Native Americans, and the United States be what it is today if Indian removal hadn’t of happened. I mean is Abraham Lincoln going to ever really take a serious knock for participating in the near genocide of Native Americans? No, he won’t ever.

    I also agree with you that the license plate serves to market the SCV, kind of like all the LSU Texas plates do. If it was just about honoring dead confederates they’d just have a confederate soldier or the battle flag on there, but that imagery is problematic as well, I guess, and putting the SCV name on their kind of keeps the message to the Civil War, and not say segregation or the old South (although that can’t totally be avoided with the use of the battle flag).

  3. focusoninfinity said, on October 27, 2011 at 12:14 am

    I believe the anti-abortion folks in North Carolina won their right to an anti-abortion plate and are succeeding in keeping the pro-abortion plate people from getting their opposing plate? I once had a NC SCV plate and in the once US Horse Cavalry Assn. was privileged to meet some black fellow members who had been yellow-leg “Buffalo Soldiers”. I’d support their getting a N.C. plate also.

    However all this artwork leaves less room for large tag ID numbers; the once original objective of tags. However if all organizational tags were eliminated, the North Carolina state senators and representatives would still want their plates designating the privilege of their position. Today the state organizations logos tail, wags the once ID only, dog.

    • Andy Hall said, on October 27, 2011 at 12:38 am

      Anecdotally, I’ve heard two things about these plates:

      1. Specialty plates like these (not SCV specifically, but for whatever cause or group) are heartily despised by police because they vary in color and format, which makes them hard to read.

      2. The SCV has fought for these plates in court and won, on the grounds that the state cannot deny for one group what it allows for another. That seems both a reasonable ruling, and also predictable — ISTR that there were similar fights years ago when groups that (shall we say) the states REALLY didn’t want their name on a big ol’ sign, successfully sued to be allowed into the adopt-a-highway program.

  4. focusoninfinity said, on October 28, 2011 at 3:36 am

    Free speech and publicity are supposedly, and likely in reality also; one justification for the specialty plates. The other prime justification is revenue for the state, and for the organizations. After all expenses are deducted, I wonder how much revenue is really realized for the states and even without expenses, how much is generated for the organizations? Over ten years ago, When I took a day course at Winston-Salem State University (traditionally a “black” college) I still had the SCV plate. My car was never damaged and I believe that speaks well of my once fellow students, as it only takes one to do harm.

    I’m reading a book “Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made” by Jim Newton. Before airport “departure rooms”, “security” and such; I was a ramp serviceman at the RDU airport and saw Justice Warren, standing behind the ramp fence, waiting for his flight. He seemed approachable, and we talked a bit; nothing profound. The book mentions the black baseball player Jackie Robinson. Decades later at another airline at another airport, where I worked as an FAA-licensed mechanic, I worked with with an old black un-licensed mechanic. Proudly, on his tool box, was a picture of Jackie Robinson. Intellectually, I could understand what Jackie Robinson meant to blacks in the 1960’s What I did not experience until I worked with Charlie, was how much Jackie Robinson meant EMOTIONALLY to blacks.

    But tonight I discovered a third side to Jackie Robinson. A black female at McDonald’s, born in the 1970’s, was telling her younger female friend about the un-written rules in movie making decades ago. She was very perceptive. I told her about the Warren book, and how it helped me perceive how blacks had emotionally experience Jackie Robinson. She then told me of the negatives (to them) that some blacks perceive in Jackie Robinson.


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