I grew up in Dallas, raised on myths about Texas Rangers as brave and wholesome guardians of the Texas frontier, helping protect innocent settlers from violent Indians. At church, boys could sign up to be Royal Rangers, the Christian equivalent of the Boy Scouts. I still remember the excitement when Chuck Norris himself, star of the television show “Walker, Texas Ranger,” came to visit my elementary school class.
My dad sometimes took my younger siblings and me to Arlington Stadium to watch the Rangers play. No state mythologizes itself quite like Texas, so of course, it made sense to have a team name that embodied that gauzy, self-regarding history. At the same time, being from a Ghanaian immigrant family, we weren’t that invested in baseball, or the team name. I just liked going because my dad would sometimes let me take sips of his Coca-Cola mixed with beer.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that the Rangers were a cruel, racist force when it came to the nonwhites who inhabited the beautiful and untamed Texas territory. The first job of the Rangers, formed in 1835 after Texas declared independence from Mexico, was to clear the land of Indian for white settlers.
That was just the start. The Rangers oppressed black people, helping capture runaway slaves trying to escape to Mexico; in the aftermath of the Civil War, they killed free blacks with impunity. “The negroes here need killing,” a Ranger wrote in a local newspaper in 1877, after Rangers fired on a party of black former Buffalo soldiers, killing four of them and a 4-year old girl. A jury would later find that the black soldiers “came to their death while resisting officers in the discharge of their duty,” an unsettling echo of the justification for modern-day police killings.
In the early 20th century, Rangers played a key role in some of the worst episodes of racial violence in American history along the Texas-Mexico border. Mexicans were run out of their homes and subject to mass lynchings and shootings. The killings got so out of control that the federal government threatened to intervene.
In his new book, “Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers,” Doug J. Swanson writes, “In service to Anglo civilization’s slow march, they functioned as executioners. Their job was to seize and hold Texas for the white man.”
But Ranger racism is not an artifact of the distant past. Rangers would be called on to protect white supremacy into the 1960s, deployed to prevent school integration. In 1956, when black students were attempting to take classes at all-white Texarkana Junior College, Rangers stood by as the mob attacked them — and threatened to arrest the black students. For their efforts, Swanson writes, they were rewarded with a chicken dinner from the White Citizens’ Council in Texarkana.
In anticipation of controversy from Swanson’s book, Dallas city officials quietly removed a 12-foot-tall statue of Ranger Jay Banks, the commanding officer who oversaw the efforts to prevent school integration, from Love Field airport. Perhaps city officials wanted to avoid the statue becoming a target of protest and heated public dialogue. As it stands now, the fate of the statue, which has been at Love Field since 1963, is uncertain. As a black Texan, I would shed no tears if Banks’s statue stayed locked in a dusty storage unit forever.
But there is no storage unit for the baseball team, whose owners have expressed no inclination to change the name. “While we may have originally taken our name from the law enforcement agency, since 1971 the Texas Rangers Baseball Club has forged its own, independent identity,” the team said in a statement. “The Texas Rangers Baseball Club stands for equality. We condemn racism, bigotry and discrimination in all forms."
This is revisionist history — and the team knows it. When the franchise, formerly the Washington Senators, moved to Texas in 1971, the Ranger name was met with protests, which were duly ignored.
It’s time to pay attention. “It may be argued that the team name honors the current agency, not the worst elements of its history,” Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, a native Texan, wrote last month, referencing the Rangers’ modern incarnation as an elite force. “But without the history and the legends, the franchise would not have adopted the name. No one would name a major league team ‘The Police’ or ‘The Highway Patrol.' "
If the team ownership, as it proclaims, condemns “racism, bigotry and discrimination in all forms,” there is an easy way for it to prove that. The Texas Rangers’ team name must go.