Tomorrow my wife Tracie and I will be protesting the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas (Martin Luther King Dr. and Interstate 10) from 3 p.m. until sundown. (Please click here for protest details in case you would like join.)
We will be joined by members of Orange County Young Democrats and Southeast Texas Progressives. The last time we gathered at the site (on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last month), we were also joined by passersby. We hope to have an even larger crowd tomorrow. I’ll have plenty of bottled water and extra signs for anyone who wants to join us.
Earlier this week, a friend of mine in Houston asked me why this particular Confederate monument concerns me so much. There are historic Confederate monuments in Houston, he pointed out. Why don’t I protest those? he asked.
I first felt a need to speak out against the monument in Orange (on the Louisiana border) after I read an ESPN profile of an NFL player: “Earl Thomas is the favorite son of a troubled Texas town.” As the title reveals, the author views Orange as a regressive city where the legacy of Jim Crow still looms over the community like a dark cloud. After all, he argues, the city recently erected a new Confederate memorial. He was right about that: the Sons of Confederate Veterans broke ground on the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in late 2013. The Los Angeles Times published a similar piece a month prior to the ESPN story: “As monuments to the Confederacy are removed from public squares, new ones are quietly being erected.”
As I’ve researched the site over the last two months, I’ve discovered that in fact the now decrepit atrium there was built by a small group of Sons of Confederate Veterans, most of whom don’t even reside there. It’s not owned by an Orange resident (although it was an Orange resident who applied for the initial building permit). It’s actually owned by the Sons, an organization based in Tennessee. The handful of Orange residents who decided to build it were approached at the time by the Orange City Council and by an ad hoc group of local pastors who asked them to reconsider their plans. The city even offered to by the privately owned land from the Sons. The city council issued a public declaration condemning the monument.
The fact of matter is that the Orange community doesn’t want this symbol of hate and fear in their city. And its conspicuous nature — it sits at the Martin Luther King Dr. exit from Interstate 10 — makes it all the more troublesome for Orange residents, nearly half of whom are black. Countless stories, like the ones published by the LA Times and ESPN, have appeared in the mainstream media depicting the city of Orange as a regressive holdout of racism. In fact, the majority of Orange residents share my view that the site needs to be repurposed: I’ve been visiting Orange regularly now for nearly 10 years, ever since I met Tracie, and I can tell you from personal experience that Orange is actually an oasis of tolerance in a corner of Texas that has a long and troubled history of racism and racial violence.
I’ve spoken to and traded comments and messages with a number of Sons over the last few months. They all argue that the monument isn’t about racism. It’s about states’ rights, not about slavery, they say. They are only trying to preserve “history” and “heritage” in their words. In not one case has any of them conceded that the Confederate flag could be perceived as offensive or socially unacceptable — when flown on MLK Dr.
Here’s what I wrote to one of my detractors in the thread of our Facebook event for tomorrow’s protest:
- Regardless of whether or not the Civil War was fought over slavery (and I believe that it was), the Confederate flag inspires fear in more than half of all Americans because of the way it was used as a symbol of hate and intimidation during the Jim Crow era. We can argue about the origins and legacy of the Civil War as long as we want. But it doesn’t change the fact that the flag instills fear in many of our sisters and brothers — fellow Americans. That’s why the conspicuous nature of this memorial makes it so troublesome for the residents of Orange and citizens of Texas.
Here’s what another one of my detractors, a guy named David Olsen, responded:
- No Jeremy Parzen, if it installs fear is because of racist upbringing. Get a life, get your heart off your sleeve and grow a pair. I’m Christian, try to love everybody, but you make it difficult and bring out the stupid in me with this racist crap. You can bet ill be getting my brothers&sisters together to come out against you in Orange. We’re all fed up with your racist crap.
David shared our event on his own Facebook and wrote: “we need to get together and go against this. The liberal racist are crying about this monument. I’m sick and tired of listening about this racist crap.”
One of his friends, a woman named Kayla Allen Sherman, urged him on, writing “I say we protect it from cover with a few snipers. Tired of playing games with these clowns.”
We’ll see if they join us tomorrow. I doubt they will but you never know. I hope you will join us in solidarity.