The culture wars rage on, with the West End Cemetery the newest front. It’s been reported that Confederate flags placed on the graves of Confederate Civil War veterans were stolen and found in a dumpster. The flags have since been replaced. But the story is not over. No doubt other efforts will be made to either steal the flags again, or other means will be devised to try to suppress efforts to memorialize Erath County’s Confederate veterans.
Some, no doubt, say, “So what?” Some comments on Facebook indicate a distinct lack of sympathy for either the Confederate war veterans or for those seeking to honor them with their flags. The veterans from whose graves the flags were stolen had fought to destroy the United States and preserve slavery, they’ve written. They deserve no honor, so why worry about the theft of a few flags?
Well, for several reasons, other than that theft is theft and theft is wrong.
First, it’s wrong to assume that the deceased veterans were being honored only for their war efforts. Granted, that’s what several news stories reported. But descendants of Confederate Civil War veterans have told me they seek to honor their ancestors not for trying to destroy the United States or preserve slavery, but for defending their own homes and communities from Union soldiers.
Furthermore, as I noted in a column defending the preservation of Stephenville’s Confederate War Memorial on the Courthouse lawn, its description says that: “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.” I haven’t talked to anyone actually involved in the placing or replacing of the Confederate flags in the cemetery. But some of them were also behind the creation of the War Memorial, so we can be certain that those who honor the dead are doing so not only for their contributions to the war, but for their contributions to rebuilding Erath County after the war as well. And what’s wrong with honoring peacetime efforts to rebuild society after a devastating war?
Moreover, assuming that placing the flags on the graves is legal and with the consent of the families of the deceased veterans, to steal the flags is to suppress the expressive speech of those who placed them there in the first place. The more we accept the suppression of some people’s speech, the easier we make it to suppress the speech of others. And someday those who think it’s acceptable to suppress the speech of those they dislike may find their own speech suppressed as well.
So what’s to be done, beyond replacing the stolen flags, and setting up security cameras to help catch those who would steal them?
Those who question the propriety of commemorating the Confederacy have as much a right to do so as those who seek to honor the Confederacy and its defenders. But they should express their views not with thievery, or with the destruction of Confederate war memorials, but with constructive words and deeds of their own, including the creation of statues and other memorials to suffering slaves or their heroic liberators, black and white.
But where to start? It’s been reported that the bodies of African Americans were exhumed from the West End Cemetery and reinterred elsewhere. These men and women whose graves were violated were either slaves or the descendants of slaves liberated by the Union Army. Why not find their graves, and decorate them with American flags?
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.