Update: Dallas’s Confederate Monuments Yet Again

On Wednesday, 25 October, I observed as all but one of the Dallas City Council listened to input from mostly white Dallas citizens regarding the recommendations of the mayor’s confederate monuments, schools, and street names task force.

A number of the people who spoke were from the Mayfair on Lee Parkway who are opposed to changing the street name. I agree that that is unnecessary.  It is not the Robert E. Lee Parkway, just Lee Parkway. Two or three people felt that the discussion of confederate statue removal was prompted by Marxists in our midst. A handful of people angrily demanded that the Robert E. Lee statue be restored to its pedestal in Oak Lawn Park and that the park’s name revert to Lee Park.

There was at least one speaker whose stance surprised me. An African-American woman spoke for keeping the confederate statues, claiming them as part of her history and heritage. She received loud and long applause from the predominantly white assemblage. Two speakers drove in from Cleburne to request that the Lee statue be given to the Cleburne Arts Council, a 501c3, for display on their private property. One speaker was from Arlington, one from Carrollton, and one from Addison. One elderly gent went to the microphone to assure us that the Civil War is over and that we need not re-fight it.

Some speakers claimed that the very discussion of the disposition of the monuments was causing strife where there had been none. Many claimed that fewer than 30 percent of Dallas citizens wanted the statues removed or the streets renamed. A handful of folks called for a city-wide vote on the monuments, and schools and streets renaming issues. Each time it was suggested, there were enthusiastic, sustained applause

All speakers had had their say in just two hours, from 6.00 to 8.00 p.m. Mayor Rawlings thanked all of the speakers and invited those who wanted to speak but did not do so that night to sign up to speak at the 1 November Council Meeting. I signed up. I will post my comments next week.

Jones Parrots Trump; Kneeling Protests Continue – As They Should

When did kneeling become disrespectful? And since when did singing the national anthem at sporting events become about the military? Apparently since Donald Trump declared it, for he has an uncanny ability to convince people that what he says is true even if it is not.

The kneeling protests by men Mr. Trump disrespects by calling them names, are about drawing the country’s attention to injustice. David Leonhardt of The New York Times says the protests were not effective, but I disagree. The protests were effective until Friday, 22 September, when the president successfully twisted the meaning of kneeling from an attitude of respect to one of disrespect and brought the military, the flag, and the nation into the discussion, not to mention he called the protesting players s.o.b.’s. The president has been allowed — by the media, his “base,” and the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones — to hijack the players’ intended focus and purpose.

I include Jerry Jones in my discussion because it was  just two weeks ago that Jones was kneeling with his players on the sidelines and linking elbows with them during the national anthem. Today he is parroting Donald Trump saying that any Cowboys “disrespectful to the flag” will be benched. But as I explained earlier, kneeling is not disrespectful, and the purpose of the protests is to highlight — and stop — the injustice of the police killing unarmed African Americans and other people of color.

Fortunately, NFL Players’ Association executive director DeMaurice Smith revealed today that NFL owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell had “promised in a meeting last week ‘that they would respect the constitutional rights of our members without retribution.'”

Ever since I was a child, I understood kneeling as a sign of respect or reverence. I was taught to kneel at my bedside to say my prayers at night, something I did with awe and respect. I do not know of anyone who kneels out of disrespect. It seems I was mistaken when I wrote that “every other thinking American” understands what the kneeling protests are about, they are about justice, not disrespect.

The Vietnam War in 18 Hours

If you did not watch Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War on PBS, forget what you are watching and start watching this documentary film. Now.

I found The Vietnam War to be comprehensive and detailed.  Even if you were in Vietnam, you may be surprised by some of the revelations of this film. It is hard to believe how little I know about the Vietnam conflict even though I lived through that time (as a preteen, teen, and young adult).

The film moves along in chronological order and I remember some things: John Kennedy’s assassination, Madam Nu, Ali refusing army induction (and losing his titles and boxing license), the ML King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, Nixon declaring the war over. I watched it as it was being broadcast, and I taped it as well. Sometimes I watched an episode again as soon as it was finished. This film is that riveting and revelatory.

A friend whose ex was a military engineer during the Vietnam War feels the film’s scope is too limited in that it does not mention those who provided support and infrastructure for the soldiers. She mentioned that engineering and construction projects such as the building of barracks and officers’ clubs had been left out. She’s right, but their omission didn’t occur to me, and even after she shared her disappointment with me, I admit that I was unconvinced that these were important oversights. What concerned me more was how few African-American faces appeared in the archival footage and the number of my friends and relatives who did not bother to watch the documentary.

In contrast to my friend, I guess I was more interested in those who prosecuted the war itself – the “grunts” and officers in combat situations and the suits in Washington, and that’s what Burns and Novick show us in 18 hours of archival and contemporary film.

As an ordinary citizen who knew little about the war, I learned much that I was curious about: How did the US get into Vietnam in the first place? Why did we stay as long as we did? Why did we support a series of puppet regimes? How could I know so little about the war when I had lived through that time? This last question has provoked pondering on my part because the film really could not answer it for me.

If you’re interested in the Vietnam War at all, I recommend Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War oversights and all. I think you’ll come away with more knowledge than you have now. If you are a member of your local PBS television or radio station you can watch all ten episodes of the film at pbs.org/vietnamwar. Let me know what you think!

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The Right Use of the Bully Pulpit

In late August 2016 Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, members of the San Francisco 49ers football team first knelt on one knee as the national anthem was sung before kick-off. Their gesture was designed, Reid reiterated in an opinion piece in the 25 September 2017 New York Times, to bring attention to “the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police.” Reid carefully explained that they “chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”

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I get it, and so does every other thinking American. There is a problem in the United States, and Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick had a platform to peacefully bring attention to it. It’s often called “the bully pulpit,” the standing and opportunity to catch people’s attention and address a problem. As members of the 49ers, Reid and Kaepernick used their prestige to begin to address the nationwide problem of police brutality and its too-frequent result: the death of unarmed African Americans.

The silent, non-violent protest has been going on for over a year. Kaepernick lost his position as 49ers quarterback in part because of it. He remains unemployed.

So why did Donald Trump seize upon a year-old, ongoing demonstration and use his bully pulpit to misrepresent what the players are doing, insult the whole National Football League, and create a firestorm of controversy last Friday? Because he doesn’t understand the issue? Because he doesn’t believe that Black lives matter? Because he is a racist? Or because he can’t deal with the problems he faces as president and needs to direct the public’s attention elsewhere? How about all of the above?

There are those who say that athletes should not express their concerns or that they should not express them on the field of play. But the playing field is their bully pulpit. Where would you have them mount their protest – someplace where it can’t be seen? Someplace where those who can do something about it don’t have to pay attention?

Just in case you are among those whom Trump has misled, the protests we saw Sunday and Monday were not designed to disrespect anything or anyone. The only person disrespecting anyone is Donald Trump. He is the one who brought the flag and the military into the discussion. For the players, it has always been and continues to be about fair and equitable treatment of people of color by law enforcement. Sunday and Monday, because of Trump’s attack on the NFL, the demonstrations became about standing up to Mr. Trump and supporting each other while continuing to peacefully and respectfully bring attention to their initial cause. It appears they chose the right time, place, and posture to do it.

Update: Lee’s Last Dallas Ride

On Friday, 15 September 2017 the Robert E. Lee statue in Dallas’s Lee Park was loaded onto a flatbed truck and taken to an undisclosed location for storage until its permanent disposition is decided. I wasn’t able to be there for the removal, and I did not want to attend the confederate supporters’ protest on Saturday, so I went by on Sunday to check out the scene at the park.

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The pedestal with its bronze plaques adorned with two sprays of once-fresh flowers remains. The granite half-round bench that faced the back of the statue remains as well. Chiseled into its backrest is the statement in capital letters, “NO CALUMNY CAN EVER DARKEN HIS FAME FOR HISTORY HAS LIGHTED UP HIS IMAGE WITH HER EVERLASTING LAMP.”

Both before and after his death in 1870 Robert E. Lee was lionize and memorialized as if he had been on the winning side of the War between the States. Well he wasn’t, and finally his infamy has caught up with him here in Dallas and elsewhere.

In Dallas, Lee reigned from his pedestal in a park named for him for 81 years, and now, finally, he is gone.

I, for one, am relieved even though the issue of confederate monuments in Dallas is not over yet.

The mayor’s commission still must decide what to do with the Lee statue; and they also have to consider the confederate monument behind the convention center. The DISD school board has already decided to rename several schools that bear the names of confederate “luminaries,” so the city is on a good path.

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And Lee Park is once again quiet with just one police SUV keeping an eye on things. I‘ll keep you posted . . .

 

 

Update: Robert E. Lee Statue Ordered Removed from Park

On Wednesday, 6 September 2017, the Dallas City Council voted 13-1 to immediately remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park in Oak Lawn. I drove over to the park to watch the statue’s removal.

There were two crowds, each of 50-75 people, watching the workers when I arrived. One group was downhill from the front of the statue, the other crowd was behind the statue level with its base. Because I parked next to Arlington Hall, I ended up with the group behind Lee and his companion. The two-figure statue was already strapped to the crane; and we all watched with a mixture of amusement and concern as the workers tried to figure out how to remove the 12,000-pound bronze sculpture from its base.

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Noelle Walker, an NBC5 reporter, interviewed me, and I was still wearing her microphone when word began passing through the crowd that a temporary restraining order (TRO) had been obtained by Hiram Patterson on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. So, the statue could not be removed on Wednesday. When Noelle asked how I felt about that, I said though I was disappointed, “Tomorrow is another day!”

And indeed, Thursday, 7 September, was another and different day as U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater held a hearing that resulted in the dissolution of the TRO that he had issued the day before. The City Council is now free to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park. The Dallas Morning News quoted City Manager T.C Broadnax’s chief of staff, Kim Tolbert, as saying Lee’s statue will be removed “over the next few days.” Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said Lee’s statue “will eventually be removed,” but he offered no timeline.

Today, Friday, 8 September, the Lee statue still is in place. Although there was a crane ready to remove it on Wednesday; according to NBC5, today, apparently, there is no crane available that can handle the 14-foot tall, 12,000-pound statue.

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The good news is that the Lee statue is on its way out. The less good news is that no one knows when it will be removed. Mayor Rawlings’s commission will decide what to do with the statue once it comes down. They also need to decide what to do with the confederate memorial adjacent to the Dallas Convention Center. I’ll keep you posted on both.

Notes on Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey

Why do so many people fail to get out of the way of hurricanes when they have plenty of time to do so? Every time a hurricane hits, there are numerous stories of those who stayed in the path of the storm. In the past, I have not been sympathetic with those who “hunkered down” and then needed rescue and other assistance.  Why didn’t they just get out when they had the chance?

As I watched the Weather Channel this weekend, I learned an answer, and I felt chastened for my uncharitable response in the past. A woman shared with a reporter that she and her husband “just didn’t have the money” to evacuate.

Money.  It had not crossed my mind that evacuation from a dangerous place might have a cost attached.  Relatives of friends of mine had journeyed to Dallas from Houston and Port Lavaca (right on the coast) to stay with my friends.  Certainly not cost-free, but only a tank of gas and food money. Of course, that assumes people have cars and the money to fill the tank, and relatives living outside the danger zone who can take them in.

For those without someone to take them in, the bravado of “Oh, I’ve been through hurricanes before. I’m just going to hunker down and ride this out,” may actually be rooted in the lack of money for gas, hotel, and food away from home.

Now that I have a different understanding of why people sometimes stay in obviously dangerous weather situations, I can be the person I want to be. I can be charitable in thought and I have called the Red Cross to make a donation to help those in need. You can contact the American Red Cross to donate by phone or to get assistance with your donation. Please contact them at 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669).

RE: Confederate Statues – A Letter to the Editor of the Dallas Morning News

On 18 August, I sent an email letter to the editor of the Dallas Morning News. As far as I know, they have not published it, so I am publishing it here for you to read.  I’ve added to it a little, because the DMN only allows 200 words via email.

The main reason the confederate monuments in Dallas TX and around the country need to be removed from publicly supported venues and that schools named for confederate “heroes” need their names changed is that the people they glorify were traitors to the United States.

The confederacy was an effort to rip apart the United States. It constituted a rebellion that resulted in a civil war that cost the lives of over 620,000 soldier and civilians. The major reason the 11 states that comprised the confederacy seceded from the United States was to maintain the institution of slavery. As disturbing as those facts are, two other facts trump them: The confederates were traitors to the Union, and they lost the war. These facts do not qualify them for laurels from the nation or U.S. cities and states.

Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings wants to study the issues of removing confederate statues from public venues and renaming schools for three months. What, exactly, is there to study? No nation erects monuments to those it has defeated. Monuments and schools should be named for those we honor and respect, and there are plenty of people who have made a positive impact on Dallas who did not fight against the United States who meet those criteria.

 

Creating a New Post-Civil War Narrative in Dallas

On Friday, 16 May 2017, New Orleans dismantled the last of its confederate Civil War monuments, a statue of General Robert E. Lee.  In place of the four monuments, Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposes installing fountains and U.S. flags.  A Lyft driver my sister and I encountered in the Big Easy in July suggested the former Lee site be made into a purple, green, and gold King (Mardi Gras) Cake with a baby on top.  No one, he said, could be upset about that since everyone loves Mardi Gras.

New Orleans has resolved its “public nuisance” problem — that is what the city council called the four statues when they determined to remove them.  Now it is time that Dallas resolved its own confederate monument problem. Fortunately, Dallas Mayor Rawlings has seen fit to address it.

In the wake the murders of nine of its African-American citizens in 2015, South Carolina finally removed the confederate battle flag from its state capitol.  Shortly thereafter in a June 2015 Dallas Morning News article reporter Elise Schmelzer documented some of the confederate markers and symbols that abound in Dallas including Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee Elementary Schools.  Fortunately, in 1999, the school named for Jefferson Davis was born anew as Barbara Jordan Elementary, named for the African-American congresswoman from Texas.

The confederate symbol I am most familiar with is the larger-than-life-size statue of Robert E. Lee that sits in Oak Lawn’s Lee Park.  I used to attend Dallas Symphony Orchestra concerts there when I lived nearby. The park was simply and appropriately Oak Lawn Park until 1936 when, during the Texas Centennial, U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the Robert E. Lee statue.  Afterward, the park was renamed for Lee.

What in the world could Roosevelt have been thinking dedicating a statue to a confederate traitor?  Because, after all, that is what Generals Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Albert Sidney Johnston, and confederate president Jefferson Davis were.  I mention the other generals and Jefferson Davis here for they adorn the confederate monument thought to be Dallas’s oldest outdoor statue.  Erected in 1897, in addition to the four most infamous traitors to the Civil War Union is a confederate soldier atop a 60-foot high pedestal around which the life-size likenesses of Lee, Jackson, Johnston, and Davis stand.  This statue sits in Pioneer Park Cemetery in downtown Dallas contiguous to our Dallas Convention Center.

Just the other day courtesy of Dallas Morning News columnist James Ragland, I learned of a confederate cemetery that sits in a predominantly African-American and Latino South Dallas community barely five minutes from downtown. What, if anything, should be done about it is another issue, something I will have to ponder.

According to Edward Sebesta, a Dallas author who is against confederate symbols, they “proclaim the white identity of Dallas.”  At the same time, they proclaim the not so hidden white supremacist narrative of the city. As Sebesta points out, such monuments and symbols are messages from those who erected them: “They are markers of territory and identity.”  And the not so distant past.

There are, it must be said, defenders of these symbols and the men they glorify. But traitors who lose their rebellions – just like toppled dictators – shouldn’t be celebrated with statues and public memorials erected in their honor.  It is unlikely that there are such memorials to Hitler in present-day Germany, or statues of Mussolini in Italy. They lost their causes.  They belong in history books and museums, but not in public places that exemplify the city’s and country’s core values and beliefs and for which the public pays the upkeep.

The fate of traitors is consignment to the dustbins of history.  Plainly and simply: the confederates lost. And but for Abraham Lincoln’s determination to forgive the traitorous rebels and desire to reunite the country, the confederate president and his minions likely would have been imprisoned or even executed for treason. No celebratory monuments should be maintained for them. It is time for a new, twenty-first century, post-Civil War narrative to be established in Dallas.

Welcome to speakingfreely.blog!

It is – I am – finally here. After weeks, months, years of talking about it, I am launching my blog. Why, you may ask, am I blogging? Because I love a good conversation, because I love to think and share ideas, and because I think I have a unique perspective. I think I have ideas not commonly seen in the mainstream mediasphere, points of view that you might find thought-provoking or funny. Or both.

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Years ago, when I lived with my parents for a few months in Las Vegas, my father and I used to sit by the pool after I came home from work and talk about everything.  I called it solving the problems of the world, that’s how wide-ranging our late evening talks were.

Amazingly enough when one got far enough away from the Strip as my parents’ house was, the night sky presented itself in all its sparkling glory. The stars were like diamonds on black velvet and we watched them as we talked. I only lived with them for a few months before finding my own apartment, and then moving to Manhattan, but those few brief few months were some of the best times of my life. Speakingfreely.blog is dedicated to Garnet Terry and Lois Tabor Ice who always offered me the best of everything in life, and especially to my father who always was interested in my thoughts and encouraged me to speak freely.

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