I served as the official historian of the State of Texas from 2009 until 2012, appointed to that post by Gov. Rick Perry. In addition, I have regularly taught undergraduate and graduate courses on the American Civil War at the college level for over 40 years. Several of my books dealing with the Texas history have been prize-winners in addition to having enjoyed very strong sales numbers, including those dealing with the era of the Civil War. As well, I am directly descended from Texans who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Given this orientation and the knowledge which has come to me through those efforts, it is my personal opinion the Confederate statue on the Grayson County Courthouse lawn must be removed, perhaps to a location on private property, so it no longer carries the imprimatur of our county government. This statue does NOT provide meaningful historical commentary in any way on the actual history of Texas in the Civil War. Instead, it provides commentary about what the white people who erected it, some former Confederates, thought about the role their state played in that conflict 35 years later. Historical statues tell as much, if not more, about the values of the people who erected them, and the times in which they were erected than the historical subjects being referenced. Removing the statue does not in any way erase the history of the Civil War. Removing the statue does erase from public property the opinions and viewpoints of the people who erected that statue.
The 1890s were a time of racial segregation and harsh discrimination against African-Americans all across the former Confederacy, including Texas in general and in Grayson County specifically. It was also an era when white southerners reinterpreted the Civil War in their memory as a glorious campaign to preserve what they saw as a noble era of state’s rights. Such memories held in the 1890s by white people with familial ties to the Civil War became part of an inaccurate and popular historical explanation of the Civil War that often occurred hand in hand with institutionalized racial segregation. Glorification of the Confederacy became an important part of that viewpoint starting about the time the Sherman statue was erected. Such glorification obscures the historical reality that the Civil War was first and foremost a conflict engaged in by the Confederacy to preserve slavery. There never would have been a Civil War had slavery not existed in the South.
The Civil War will always be a part of our nation’s history and cannot be erased. And it never will be erased. That does not mean, however, we must continue to accept the way white people across the South during the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, some of them former Confederates, chose after the fact to interpret the Civil War by maintaining their statues on public property as inviolate and immovable.
Light T. Cummins is the Guy M. Bryan Professor of History at Austin College in Sherman. He is a lifetime Fellow of the Texas State Historian Association. Cummins is the author or editor of academic books and scholarly articles He served as the official State Historian of Texas from May 2009 until July 2012.