“Keep Austin Weird” is one of the catch phrases to promote tourism in Austin, TX. It seems they are working to do just that.The Austin city government established an Equity Office to promote equality and fight discrimination. Among other things, the office has initiated the renaming of streets and the removal of monuments of Confederate generals.
Now, it seems, they are on a roll and have said that the city should consider renaming anything having to do with slavery. That would include the city itself, which is named after Stephen Austin. Austin, who died 25 years before the Civil War broke out, is remembered as the “Father of Texas” for establishing the first successful American settlements in 1825. Many places and institutions in Texas bear his name. But Austin promoted slavery in Texas. The Equity Office considered it “within the spirit” of the renaming effort to include Austin as someone to exclude.
And though the Equity Office is a local government office, one can’t help but look at the logical extension of the thinking for the state of Texas. Sam Houston, for which the city of Houston is named, was a slave-holder. Lubbock was named after a man who was later a Confederate officer and Garland after a Confederate Congressman. If we go one step further, Corpus Christi (Latin for “body of Christ”) clearly has Christian roots and some have already argued that is discriminatory.
If we apply that nationally, then we have to include most famous figures of the first century of our country’s existence. George Washington was a slaveholder. Washington state will need to be renamed, as will the nation’s capital and an untold number of other things (including the author’s hometown and high school). Then we go to Jefferson and….
In the US, our history of slavery was based primarily on race. But slavery has existed throughout history and so do we extrapolate the same line of thinking? Romans and Greeks had slaves so do we eliminate all reference to Roman history (rename the home city of the Univ. of GA-Athens, for example). The Mongols had slaves. We have documented history of African nations having slaves, some of which such as Dahomey, made war for the sole purpose of getting slaves to sell. So what do we rename, ban, make a crime to talk about?
Let’s not soft pedal the issue of slavery. It was a terrible, immoral and dark time in our history. There is no excuse for that in our country nor for any time in the history of mankind. The question is how we treat history, and how we remember it. It seems reasonable not to memorialize people who are primarily known for their association with terrible things. We would never consider memorializing Hitler, for example (though incredibly some do so for Mao and Castro, but that’s another topic for another day). It seems someone such as Jefferson Davis would fall into this category. He would be a little-known Congressman in history that few would have heard of if he had not also been the President of the Confederacy—he is famous solely because of his outspoken defense of slavery and the office he held to defend it. Yet that isn’t why Stephen Austin is remembered, or George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.
It seems that thinking people-which I realize are often not the most vocal and rabid-can make reasonable choices on this topic, choices that don’t celebrate abhorrent parts of history but yet don’t try to erase history which, both good and bad, have made us who we are. Who we are now are flawed individuals and a country of flaws, and that isn’t any different than we have been historically or will be in the future.