Friday, October 14, 2011

Texas License Plate

(Source The Dallas Morning News, October 14, 2011)
The Sons of Confederate Veterans have asked the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue license plates that contain the group’s logo featuring a Confederate battle flag. As might be expected, there is opposition to proposed vanity plate. More than 22,000 people have signed petitions opposing the Texas license plate. The Dallas Morning News of October 14th has urged DMV board members to vote no. The editorial, DMV Should Wave the Flag, concluded that approval of the Confederate plate would only reinforce the “backward-looking” stereotype of Texas and that would be a “distorted representation of what this state stands for.”

This is more than a freedom of speech issue. No one will dispute an individual’s right to display his beliefs in support of a political, social, recreational, collegiate or environmental cause. Texas has more than 200 specialty license plates with these motives. In addition, cars are adorned with stickers in support of these same causes. License plates with the logo are available Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

So why is this proposal different?

First, the Confederate flag is considered by many black Americans as a symbol of slavery. I have commented on this issue before and it is important to differentiate the use of this flag to honor the service of Southerners who fought for what they believed in. While the war was about slavery, most Confederate soldiers served to defend their homes from “Northern invasion” and the “Yankees” telling them how to run their businesses. Honor the men, but not the slave owner’s cause.

Second, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans may be regarded by some as a closet racist organization. This same attack could be made on any Southern-based Civil War group including Civil War Round Tables and battlefield preservation groups. The majority of members are history buffs, re-enactors, and, most importantly, ancestors of civil war veterans. Like all social, national and religious organizations, these groups have bigoted members. However suspicious outsiders may view these groups, we need to respect their rights to their opinions and the motivations of the majority of their members. According to their web page, the “Sons of Confederate Veterans is preserving the history and legacy of these heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause.”

Third, this group’s proposal is offensive to many people. The twenty-two thousand who signed the petition exceeds the 2,300 members of the group. The wishes of the majority do not override the rights of the minority. Because this license plate represents Texas, the DMV must decide what is in the interest of all Texans.

We cannot and should not do away with the Confederate flag. It is a part of our history and culture. Allowing the license plate should serve not as reminder to where we were as a country but to honor the sacrifices that all Americans made to become the nation we are. Texas has become a unique state --- not southern, not western --- with a blend of cultures --- Hispanic, African American, German, and even Yankee. However, the State of Texas must determine, not if this license plate is an historic tribute, but if it is offensive to the majority of Texans, its fit with Texan culture and values, and if Texas wishes to have its name publicly associated with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.


Joe Reinhart said...

The statement that any southern based Civil War Round Table could be considered a closest racist organization is incorrect. Have you checked the membership of all the Round Tables in the South. You conclude that this is because they had Confederate ancestors. I belong to the Manasota CWRT (Sarasota, FL.) As far as i know, a large majority of the members were born in the North and had Union ancestors. Some had none on either side. I am a Kentuckian with Union ancestors. A large part of Florida's adults were born in Union states. Therefore your statement is overly broad.
Joe Reinhart

Allen Mesch said...

Joe, I certainly never meant to categorize any Civil War organization as racist. I was only suggesting that, like all organizations, some may have members who do not conform to the group norm. Civil War Roundtables may be geogrphically diverse as your chapter or may have more Southerners or Northerners.

My comment was that Civil War groups based in the South are more suceptible to charges of racism than in other parts of the country.

I also wanted to emphasize that just because a group is focused on the Civil War, like the the Sons of Confederate Veterans, it doesn't mean they are a racist organization. If you will re-read that paragraph, you will see that my intent was quite the opposite of what you suggested in your comment.