When people tell the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans spokesman Marshall Davis that his group’s flags are an enduring symbol of the South’s savage history of slavery, he has an answer ready for them.
“The American flag flew over a slave nation for over 100 years,” Davis says. “The Confederate flag flew over a slave nation for four years. By comparison, the American flag is 25 times more a slave flag.”
Not surprisingly, the Sons of Confederate Veterans believe the controversy swirling around the memorial to Confederate war dead that they’re building in the east Texas city of Orange is overblown, if not entirely unfounded.
Construction on the $50,000 monument near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive began in 2013, despite strenuous objections from some locals.
Those objections recently resurfaced after the Sons of Confederate Veterans announced that they have ordered eight custom-made poles for Confederate battle flags that will, Davis said, increase the visibility of the monument alongside Interstate 10, not far from the street named after King, the slain civil rights leader.
Eventually, as funds allow, Davis said, the group plans to install 24 more Confederate battle flags representing various Texas regiments that fought in the Civil War. Each one, he noted, will include a nameplate with the flag’s history.
“All we want to do is honor our war dead,” Davis told The Washington Post. “We want to honor our heroes. We don’t want to impede anyone from honoring their heroes, their veterans and their war dead. We would like the same tolerance and courtesy.”
Paul Jones, president of the Beaumont chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the memorial a “slap in the face.”
“Why would you want to glorify that part of history?” Jones told the Beaumont Enterprise. “That’s a big question mark in my mind.”
The monument is supported by 77 percent of Orange residents, according to a survey conducted by the Enterprise. Many of them aided in its construction by purchasing bricks at $50, $300 and $500 and benches at $800, according to the group’s Web site.
Orange City Attorney John Cash “Jack” Smith told the Enterprise that he does not count himself among that cohort.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “I think it’s a bad idea. But they own the property, and the First Amendment warrants them that right.”
Smith said the city could have faced a lawsuit if local officials had tried to stop construction of the memorial, which sits on recently purchased private land.
David Moore, Lieutenant Division Commander of the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, told The Post that Southern states did not fight the Civil War to defend slavery, but instead to defend state’s rights after they were “invaded by Northern troops.” He said the monument in Orange honors the ancestors of the 2,600 members of Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“We’re not a hate group or anything like that,” he said. “My great-grandfather joined the Confederate army and he didn’t own any slaves, so why did he fight? It was to preserve his family, his children and his state’s rights.”
He added: “We also had black Confederates fighting for the South as well, which gets left out of history books.”
As The Post has reported previously, that claim has been rejected by most historians but is often made by groups seeking to play down slavery’s role as a cause of the Civil War.
Meredith Morgan, an Orange native who opposes the monument and signed a petition to keep it from being constructed, told the Enterprise that the Confederate flag “was adopted by white extremist groups and has been a symbol of hate.”
“How do we explain to our children that this monument only represents the divide of the United States in the directional sense?” she said. “In its best form, the flag is still a symbol of division and rebellion.”
Davis said critics who find the memorial offensive misinterpret the site’s intent.
“The flags are not supposed to be overly obtrusive and offensive,” he said.
Instead, he said: “They are to accent the monument.”