GOP presidential contender Gov. Rick Perry (TX) has seen his front runner status slip from his grasp after a series of bad debate performances and revelations that for years he’s hosted friends and lawmakers at a family hunting camp called “Niggerhead.” That report has prompted more investigations into Perry’s complicated record on racial issues.
Now the Associated Press is reporting that Perry has consistently defended the use of Confederate symbols during his tenure as a top-ranking state official:
Eleven years ago, when the NAACP stepped up a campaign to remove the Confederate battle flag from statehouses and other government buildings across the South, it found an opponent in Rick Perry.
Texas had a pair of bronze plaques with symbols of the Confederacy displayed in its state Supreme Court building. Perry, then lieutenant governor, said they should stay put, arguing that Texans “should never forget our history.”
It’s a position Perry has taken consistently when the legacy of the Civil War has been raised, as have officials in many of the other former Confederate states. But while defense of Confederate symbols and Southern institutions can still be good politics below the Mason-Dixon line, the subject can appear in a different light when officials seek national office.
The sensitive issue will rear its head again this fall when a state board Perry appointed will decide whether to allow specialty Texas license plates featuring the Confederate flag. The measure has been pushed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization Perry has supported over the years. Perry wrote to the group in March 2000 that, “although this is an emotional issue, I want you to know that I oppose efforts to remove Confederate monuments, plaques and memorials from public property.”
Perry’s great-great-grandfather David H. Hamilton fought for the Confederacy at Gettysburg with the First Texas Infantry. Perry once issued a “Message from the Governor” honoring Confederate brigadier general Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross on what would have been his 169th birthday — despite accusations that Ross was behind the murder of black prisoners of war in Mississippi.
The Confederate battle flag has been chief target for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and many institutions have scaled back their use of it out of consideration for how offensive and even threatening it is to the millions of black Americans for whom it represents slavery and a past of horrific oppression and exploitation. The floor of the Texas Capitol’s rotunda still bears the seal of the Confederacy, and statues on the grounds memorialize Robert E. Lee and Confederate soldiers.
The NAACP says lawmakers’ defense of Confederate symbols amounts to a “glorification” of the pre-Civil War South. Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, says her organization is fighting this “romanticism around the Old South.” “It’s a view of history that ignores how racism became a tool to maintain a system of supremacy and dominance,” Shelton said.