Tomorrow is Confederate Heroes Day in Texas. If it seems oddly coincidental that Confederate Heroes Day shows up on the same weekend we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, that’s because it’s not a coincidence.
In 1973 the Illinois Legislature was the first in the nation to create an official holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. That same year, the Texas Legislature responded to rising calls for a celebration of MLK’s life and work with a typically passive-aggressive swipe at the civil rights movement.
Since the 1930’s Robert E. Lee’s birthday on January 19th had been a minor state holiday. In 1973 the Texas Legislature consolidated it with a celebration of Jefferson Davis’ birthday to create a brand new, totally race-neutral Confederate Heroes Day. Of course, any overlap on the calendar with MLK’s birthday was pure, race-blind accident.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. That cheap, spiteful move by the Texas Legislature happened in an era of one-party Democratic rule. Republicans are fond of pointing out that Democrats ran the South throughout the Civil Rights Era and were responsible for many of the worst atrocities carried out against African-Americans. If the rise of the Republican Party in the South had been inspired by anything other than party-switching by Democrats angry over desegregation, you’d expect the new Republican majority would have immediately removed the idols of the Confederate cult. Strangely, that hasn’t occurred.
Representatives from the Party of Lincoln in the Texas Legislature could cancel Confederate Heroes Day in ten minutes if they wanted to. Or if they just wanted to be conciliatory, they could at least move it to line up with similar commemoration dates in other states later in the spring, usually in April. It would acknowledge the former Democratic legislature’s ugly motives in setting the date in January and emphasize the state’s commitment to Dr. King’s legacy and memory under a new, more enlightened Republican regime.
Of course, that won’t happen. The reason it will not happen is that the Republicans who hold single-party rule in Texas now are the heirs of single-party Democratic rule back then. In fact, some of them are literally the same people sitting under a different party banner. Thirty years ago, Rick Perry was a Democrat and Elizabeth Warren was a Republican. Something as innocuous as attempting to change the date of a holiday hardly anyone knows exists would bring the racist rats out the Dixiecrat woodpile. Southern conservatives who now vote Republican would place relentless pressure on their leaders politicians not to “back down” to “political correctness.” The Civil War isn’t over, and the good guys haven’t won yet.