When Nikolai Yezhov, a top Soviet official, got on the wrong side of Stalin and the front side of a firing squad, he was air brushed out of official group photos. Yezhov never existed. That’s what some folks are trying to do with our own history, erase any mention of the Confederacy. (In Memphis, the bodies of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife are being dug up and moved to a more obscure site.) In Texas, we have many reminders of our part in the War for Southern Independence, as my grandmother called it. The biggest flap is what to do with the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on the South Mall of the UT-Austin campus. The Longhorns ain’t just whistling Dixie anymore.
The movement to erase any mention of the War of Northern Aggression, as my other grandmother called it, is growing, and we must wonder why, after all this time. I think one reason is demographics. In recent years, Texas has been inundated by a million newcomers from the other states, many from the North. They don’t know and really don’t care about our history. They didn’t grow up with Friday Night Lights and Saturday night rodeos. No Willie and Waylon and the boys. No Travis, Bowie and Crockett. And definitely no Lee, Johnston and Davis. Some are more than indifferent, they are missionaries to the savages, wanting to change our past and our culture. (“Why do your children say ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, ma’m,’” I was asked by a newcomer from New York.) So we have many new Texans whose ancestors wore blue, and who they would just as soon get out the air brush.
Fine, that’s their opinion – only they want to make it mine, too. But who or what do we put on the UT pedestal to replace Jefferson Davis? We can’t leave that big space with its large base totally empty. Thus we must fill in the blanks. The first name that pops up is Rick Perry, but when the Aggies wanted to rename their main building on campus the Rick Perry Silo, he refused. So did his bail bondsman. Perry might feel the same way about a UT statue. Darrell Royal would be fine, except the Longhorns already have an enormous football stadium named for him. Earl Campbell is too modest to allow it. Bevo? Been done. Michael Dell dropped out of UT after his freshman year to dabble in computers, and was never heard of again. But he must have done well because the new UT medical school on campus is named after him. If we do want two salutes to Dell, he should be portrayed in a smock wearing Latex gloves.
There are lots of other candidates. Moses Rose springs to mind. He was a defender of the Alamo, a role which should certainly be honored. However there are problems with this. He went by two names: Moses and Lewis Rose. Also, he was the one and only defender to flee the mission before the final siege. Years later, when asked why he left, he explained: “I didn’t want to get killed.” Now who can argue with that? His quote should be carved on his pedestal as an inspiration to all the students who dropped a course just before finals. Another candidate is Wallace L. Hall, the regent who wants professors to actually teach a class. But doctoral candidates would vandalize it by dawn.
Alexander Hamilton, our first Secretary of the Treasury and the man who set up many financial policies for the nation which are followed to this day, is probably going to be replaced on the $10 bill by a woman. The key to Hamilton’s weakness is the previously mentioned “the man.” For it is decreed that a woman needs to have her face on a bill. Which woman? It doesn’t make any difference, any woman. So how about replacing Jefferson Davis (a man), with a woman who fairly shouts “Longhorns!” to the world. I suggest a cheerleader, with large pom-poms. (Big Bertha is a drum.) Maybe a frat house-mother wearing a blindfold, with hands over her ears, see no evil, etc.
If a woman deserves a place on the podium to replace Jefferson, how about minorities? Juan Seguin, the only Texian to fight both at the Alamo and San Jacinto, or José Antonio Navarro, lawmaker, legislator and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Maybe a statue honoring Jose Cuervo, inventor of the margarita and Tex-Mex food. Each time a student orders a frozen-with-salt and a plate of enchiladas with rice and beans, she will think of that statue on the mall, which is more than we can say about Jefferson Davis. There are many black Texans who could be honored: Barbara Jordan and Scott Joplin would be leading candidates, among many others.
The pedestal doesn’t even have to support a person. The Spirit of East Sixth Street? Considering the hundreds of millions of dollars Texans pour into the school, how about Tomb of the Unknown Taxpayer? A large pyramid with the top cut off, dedicated to “The bottom 99 percent.” The UT alumni magazine, the Alcalde, like most alumni publications, always features graduates who became senators, tech tycoons, Olympic stars or, more importantly, grads who made a squillion bucks and gave some of it to the school. But they are the tip of the pyramid. Holding them up are the other 99 percent who weren’t Rhodes scholars, Nobel laureates or made a squillion dollars. You can’t have the top 1 percent without the bottom 99 percent down below holding them up.
So there are my suggestions to air brush our past. Actually, simply to rectify history, UT may want to put up a statue to honor Nikolai Yezhov, “Victim of Stalin.”
First student looking at statue: “Who was Yezhov?”
Second student: “Beats me. Who was Stalin?”
First student: “I think he was on the ten-dollar bill,”
Ashby is statuesque at firstname.lastname@example.org