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BITE-SIZE HISTORY Texas Finally Recognizes Its History

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Posted: Monday, January 21, 2019 6:13 pm

Last week, The Texas Tribune reported on an interesting event in the capitol building in Austin.  Members of the Texas state board that oversees the capitol grounds voted to remove a plaque from the capitol titled, “Children of the Confederacy Creed.”

Why did the group remove the plaque? The plaque proclaimed “to honor our veterans, to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the war between the states was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery).” The plaque, dedicated in 1959, is not history. It denies the truth.

Slavery is the primary cause of the American Civil War. It is the primary cause of Texas leaving the Union. How can one honor the memory of veterans without acknowledging the cause of the war for which they gave their lives? It’s about time Texas recognizes and teaches these facts.

Texas was recently in national headlines because the TEKS (the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), the curriculum teachers must teach, recently changed. Eighth grade students in Texas, starting in the 2019-2020 academic year, will learn that slavery was a central cause of the Civil War, not just states’ rights.

Why is this a big deal? Before, students learned states’ rights, sectionalism and slavery were causes of the Civil War, but these three aspects are not equal. It is time that Texas students learn the defining role of slavery in Southern secession.

The Civil War is one of my favorite topics to teach as a college instructor. Most students learn about the Civil War in the eighth grade. It is difficult to teach the intricacies of the Civil War, including the role of racism and slavery, to 13-year-olds. It is unreasonable to expect these barely-teenage students to understand this painful and violent foundation of American history. However, when students come to college and discuss states’ rights as the primary cause of the Civil War, I have to teach them the facts. I let the words of the Texans involved in secession speak for themselves.

In my US History classes, I do an activity in which the students read and take notes on the Texas Articles of Secession, the document adopted Feb. 2, 1861, by the representatives in the state convention. In the activity, students highlight each mention of the word “slavery” and each time the document discusses slavery. The point of the exercise is clear, to literally highlight the fact that slavery is the main cause of Texas’ secession.

Texas left the Union to uphold the institution of keeping African-American people in perpetual servitude. In the state’s Articles of Secession the drafters stated, “She (Texas) was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.” The majority of the Articles of Secession discussed slavery, the northern threat to slavery, and the right of Texas to continue the institution of slavery. Outside of a paragraph on issues with the southern border, the document focuses on the preservation of slavery.

 The framers of the Articles of Secession made it clear that slavery and its continued practice in Texas were their concern. To have a plaque, made almost one hundred years after the war, proclaim that the conflict was not connected to slavery is a lie. To have that falsehood in the capitol building of the state is a slap in the face to historians, the men who fought in the war, the individuals enslaved in Texas, and to the leaders who made the decision to secede. They told us what they were thinking.

It is unfortunate that it took decades for the state to remove the plaque and for the State Board of Education to recognize slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War. Now students can better understand the facts of the Civil War. We need students and adults to understand what factors nearly destroyed this country and to ensure that Americans do not repeat those mistakes. Not all history is happy nor easy to discuss, but that does not mean those aspects of history should be left in the dust.

If you have a history question, feel free to write me. Submit your questions to me at: kstvarnon@gmail.com.

Sources: The Texas Tribune, The Washington Post, NPR, Handbook of Texas Online, “Texas Declaration of Causes”

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