“Keep Austin Weird” is a longtime city motto. Now the challenge for Texans may be to keep Austin Austin.
The Texas capital has been reviewing names of streets, parks and public buildings honoring major figures of the Confederacy. But last week the city’s Equity Office also suggested that a broader secondary review could encompass renaming anything honoring anyone with ties to slavery, including town namesake Stephen F. 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 — cities, a county, colleges and schools — bear his name. But Austin promoted slavery in Texas and resisted abolition efforts by the Mexican government. The Equity Office considered it “within the spirit” of the anti-Dixie effort to include Austin as someone to exclude.
Democrats' war on their historyCity spokesman David Green said, “no one sees this as an attempt to change the name of the city,” even though that is exactly what was being suggested. And in the progressive worldview it is a short hop from the unthinkable to the mandatory, from concept to edict.
Witness the evolution of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s thinking: in 2015 he said that “Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, these are all parts of our heritage,” and it would be best to “leave the statues and those things alone” on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. A brief two years later the more “woke” McAuliffe, eyeing a run for the presidency, called the statues "flashpoints for hatred, division, and violence” and said they should all come down.
Much of the self-flagellation over these issues has arisen because Democrats are at war with their own history. Southern slavery, Jim Crow and segregation were Democratic institutions. Democrats elevated Confederate memory, and now they are erasing it. The statue of Robert E. Lee that the city of Dallas took down in 2017 was unveiled by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, who said at the time that “all over the United States” Lee was recognized as “one of our greatest American Christiansand one of our greatest American gentlemen.” If a Democrat said that today they would be given a beat-down in the name of tolerance.
The Austin Equity Office's suggestion also illustrates a point President Donald Trump made a year ago, that erasing honors to the Confederacy is only the starting point in a general assault on American memory. “Is it George Washington next week” he said, “and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Liberal historians tut-tutted at the president for even suggesting such an absurdity. But the vandals who attacked the Jefferson statue at the University of Virginia on his birthday proved Trump right.
Woke-ness invading the AlamoEven the Alamo, the most sacred soil of Texas, is being “reimagined” to deemphasize the heroic stand that took place there in 1836. Project master planner and non-Texan George Skarmeas defended this approach, saying "the events of 1836 were just one small chapter in 10,000 years of history,” and “we cannot single out one moment in time.” But “Forget the Alamo” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Old-school liberals underestimate the ISIS-like desire of progressives to wipe out history that does not pass ideological muster. Stephen Austin’s views on slavery were complex and nuanced like Jefferson’s, but so what? He is tainted by the American Republic’s original sin, so for progressives that is case closed. Hopefully most Texans will respond to having Austin’s name removed by saying, “come and take it.”
James S. Robbins is the author of Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past (Regnery, 2018). This article originally appeared in USA Today and is reprinted with permission of the author.