Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Politician walks away from confrontation over Confederate flag

Waco – The notice to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp No. 129 was ambiguous, to say the least.

Commander Charles Oliver, a man with a background in sales and a long history of civil war battle re-enactment as a gray-coated rifleman, announced that he had gone “head to head with Lester Gibson's crowd,” and Mr. Gibson, a very black man with a very deep bass voice who serves on the McLennan County Commissioners' Court, canceled a planned appearance at the historical society's monthly meeting.

“He never could come up with a subject and then canceled out. Instead of him, you will get to hear me speak,” he wrote.

In its national role, Sons of Confederate Veterans plays a part in keeping Confederate gravesites clean and orderly, preserving the history of who fought for Dixie, and where, and in some of its factions, pushes a neo-Confederate agenda some have criticized as racist. In others, they merely preserve the history of that most tragic of American wars, the one that claimed more than 600,000 lives and destroyed the economic prospects for some of the richest states in the U.S. for many generations to come.

One of its chief roles seems to be to serve as a guardian against historical revisionism that would deny the Confederate states were invaded by U.S. Army troops following a cassus belli in the bombardment of Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor, an event that occurred 150 years ago this week.

Historical revisionists have lobbied against the display of Confederate flags and symbolism in state capitals throughout the south – sometimes with great effect, always amid acrimonious and vitriolic debate. They say such displays are racist, since the central conflict was over whether new states admitted to the U.S. would be allowed the option of letting their citizens keep other human beings in involuntary servitude or slavery.

The War Between The States, or that of Northern Aggression, is the truth; it's natural, but not everything is always satisfactual, as it were. Some wish for old times to be forever forgotten.

On the other hand, Lt. Commander Lynn Simpson notified members that “This month's speaker will be Mr. Lester Gibson. Mr. Gibson is McLennan County Commissioner for Precinct 2. Mr. Gibson is a 1974 Baylor graduate and a life long public servant. He will be speaking to the camp about the recent dedication of the Confederate Memorial in Bellmead.”

Bellmead is a an industrial suburb on the northeast side of Waco, site of the former Connolly Air Force Base and near the site of the infamous Branch Davidian raid and standoff of 1993.

The memorial includes a flagpole which flies the Confederate battle flag on a small, triangular piece of land between two motels situated on the west side of busy I-35 near a major interchange with Loop 340, which bypasses Waco and leads to State Highway 6. Thousands of cars and trucks whiz by the site each hour of the day. It is one of many that fly over major Interstate exchanges throughout the south.

The black politician appeared before television news cameras recently at a dedication ceremony to protest the placement of this symbol of what he considers racism.

Mr. Gibson and his “crowd” also recently obtained permission from the Commissioners' Court to place a plaque near a mural in the rotunda of the grand old gingerbread double-domed courthouse that depicts, in part, the lynching of a figure presumed to be a black man on a public square in downtown Waco.

Several such incidents occurred in the history of this ultra-Baptist stronghold, home of the nation's largest and wealthiest private religious university, Baylor.

A check with Mr. Gibson's office told the story. Mr. Gibson had been called out of town on other business and could not attend.

At a luncheon held at the Doris Miller YMCA Recreation Center, a facility named for a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, a black mess cook who manned an anti-aircraft gun on a ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor and later died in combat at sea, Mr. Oliver told the black activists how some 50,000 black troops served the Confederacy during the civil war.

They reportedly asked why is there no monument to the memory of these black troops at the site of the battle flag?

There could be, Mr. Oliver says. He assured them of it, both at the most recent meeting and at meetings six months ago, when he informed them of the club's intentions. All they have to do is pay for it, make sure it's in scope and size with the rest of the monument, and meets with the approval of the membership of Sons of Confederate Veterans.

At this point, a motion was made to entertain such an idea, seconded, and in subsequent discussion, tabled - before the question was called.

The members showed their war faces, scowling when reminded that the black folks were informed that the memorial was dedicated to the memory of all who served under the flag of the Confederacy, no matter their ethnicity.

“When will the Hispanics get their special memorial?” one member asked. Another asked if there could not be a special memorial for Jewish soldiers. After all, Judah Benjamin served as Secretary of State and Treasurer for the embattled Confederate nation. He finished his career at London as a barrister who practiced before the King's Bench.

Mr. Oliver presented a 15-minute talk about the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, a man who suffered horribly from a skin condition that made children flee in fear when they first saw him, but served as a tutor to the children of the wealthiest plantation owners of Georgia, served in Congress, and quickly regained his civil rights following his pardon and parole after the war.

“We're constantly fighting for what we believe in,” said a tight-lipped Charles Oliver. “The war isn't over.”

- The Legendary

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