It was only a matter of time. The controversy over Confederate statues and monuments has come to Stephenville. Tarleton’s Texan News Service recently raised the question of the propriety of Stephenville’s own monument to Confederate war dead. You can read the article here: http://texannews.net/the-future-of-stephenvilles-confederate-monument/.
As readers of my previous pieces on the issue of Confederate statuary, monuments, and memorials know, I’ve advocated their retention to help stimulate interest and debate about our history This idea is not original to me—I’ve borrowed it from Condoleeza Rice, the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State.
It should further be noted that Stephenville’s Confederate monument also differs from those statues that have been the targets of criticism in several crucial ways:
First, it is small and unobtrusive, located on the County Courthouse grounds where it is accessible to those who want access to it but otherwise avoidable.
Second, it is not a statue of any one particular person. Although the wording on the monument mentions George B. Erath by name, the monument is clearly intended to commemorate not only Erath County’s namesake but also “THE MORE THAN 600 CONFEDERATE VETERANS OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES, WHO REST BENEATH THE RICH SOIL OF ERATH COUNTY.”
Third, while the monument’s wording says that these men fought for the Confederacy, it stresses that they are to be especially honored for their work in rebuilding Texas after the war: “THE SOUTH DEVASTATED BY WAR AND THE HARD LIFE DURING RECONSTRUCTION CAUSED FAMILIES TO MOVE TO TEXAS WHERE THEY HOPED FOR A BETTER LIFE. ERATH COUNTY PROSPERED AS VETERANS BUILT HOMES, SCHOOLS, CHURCHES, FARMS, AND BUSINESSES. CSA VETERANS BECAME LEADERS IN OUR TOWNS AND COMMUNITIES.”
In, summary, therefore, the Stephenville Confederate monument really honors veterans not because they fought in the Civil War, but because after their defeat on the battlefield, they chose to rebuild their communities and their lives. It is not really a war memorial, but a peace memorial.
As I’ve also written elsewhere, those who are dissatisfied with current Confederate monuments and what they think they mean should erect their own monuments to commemorate the suffering of slaves, the heroism of emancipators, black and white alike, the heroes of the civil rights movement, or whatever other message they want to convey. In short, we need not fewer monuments, but more. And those who feel so motivated to look for new heroes to memorialize need not confine their searches to those involved in the Civil War, Reconstruction, or the civil rights movement. For example, there’s plenty of need to rebuild the lives, homes, schools, churches, farms, and businesses devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Fortunately, there seem to be plenty of heroes throughout Texas and right here in Erath and surrounding counties already helping out, by collecting food, clothing, money, hay for livestock, etc., and sending these necessities down to Houston and its surrounding counties. Today’s heroes may not have the time to pose for statues or other memorials, but in years to come, there’ll be time to suitably honor their achievements. Surely finding more heroes to honor is a more constructive use of time than searching for more monuments to send down the memory hole.
And as for Stephenville’s Confederate monument: LET IT BE.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.