Highway marker is spurring a long-overdue discussion
I’ve been thinking a lot about what the Jefferson Davis Highway No. 20 marker stands for and the many ways that it affects people depending upon their life experiences. I’m glad that Randy brought it to the Council’s attention as it seems to be spurring, probably long overdue, discussion.
It has caused me to ponder: why do people build memorials? I assume it is to honor a person for their contribution to society, whether it be their ideas or actions, or to commemorate an event. I can’t imagine a monument being built to remember a proposed, but never built, highway, so assume the real purpose is to honor Jefferson Davis, the first president of the Confederacy. If so, are his beliefs and ideals those that we want to honor and perpetuate in the 21st century? Some will say yes, we do want to continue to promote the ideal of state rights. However, as we delve into the state’s rights that the Civil War was fought over, and Davis wanted to protect, all had their basis on the issue of slave ownership. Is that the right that we want to perpetuate, to honor?
What do the Elgin residents of today think and view this issue? The group most affected by slavery and all the Jim Crow repercussions, past and present, are the black people. Is it important to listen to their voice? At the last council meeting, Richard Miller stated that he grew up in a “separate but unequal culture” and the marker is a reminder of this past and should not be kept. As I spoke to various citizens and read different comments, there are different views, but many felt that the marker does not represent their ideals of respect and consideration, and that it has offensive historical connotations that should not be honored today.
However, I do respect that the Daughters of the Confederacy have and continue to spend time, money and energy in erecting and maintaining the monument. Also, I assume it represents strong emotional ties to their heritage.
In a Word On The Street segment, Marcia McMillan said, “Times change. Let us not forget, but instead acknowledge, and converse, heal and unite.” Would heartfelt discussion help us to understand each other and heal ourselves as we sort out our past and its effects on us today, to appreciate and embrace our diversity instead of fearing it? As we do this, will this assist us to have more equitable educational outcomes, career opportunities, income levels, etc. for all? Do our subtle, and maybe not so subtle, attitudes from the past still affect us, not only as individuals, but also as a society? Hopefully this will inspire us to find a space where this discussion can occur in a safe, open and accepting environment. I would be glad to support or help organize this.
Often I will hear that we need to recognize our history, so I would like to end with a historical fact. While Texas voted to secede from the Union, both Bastrop County and the precinct that included the Elgin area voted to stay in the Union. It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it, that our Jefferson Davis Highway marker actually memorializes the wishes of the minority of our inhabitants at that time?