Please forgive my use of the metaphors found in this writing that in no way dismisses the impact that George Floyd’s loss of life has had on the world. However, in light of where America finds itself in 2020, looking at those considered heroes for one group of Americans and those who are not considered heroes for another group of Americans, it is time that the discussion imposed herein, is brought under the full light of the present world and American conversation.
A number of heroes of the Confederacy, who fought to continue the enslavement of men and women of African descent, have had their “knee on the neck” of Texas Southern University, a Historically Black College and University for many years. It is now time to have those “knees” removed so that African Americans can “breathe” the same air of the feeling of freedom, and pride that all others in America and Houston celebrate with great sentiment.
Cleburne Street, the primary address of Texas Southern University, is named after Major General Patrick Cleburne, a Confederate Soldier who fought to continue “the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States” (Confederate States, 1861). That street name should be changed to a name that more appropriately reflects the pride of African Americans and the struggle they are overcoming. Even Cleburne would agree as he once said:
Surrender means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern school teachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the War; will be impressed by all the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit subjects for derision. (Cleburne)
For the street to remain named after Cleburne is to admit that the Confederacy won and continues to be the enemy of those who were enslaved as well as their descendants. Should Texas Southern University teach the Confederacy principles of “enslaving negroes?”
Shouldn’t Texas Southern be teaching the history of the “gallant dead” who were not traitors to the cause of African Americans putting a shoulder to the enormous boulder of racism and pushing it over the cliff of change? Name this street after Dr. Thomas F. Freeman, a man who taught and mentored many African Americans to go forth in a heroic struggle against the enemy who hoped to deprive them of their rights and liberties.
Ennis St, another thoroughfare surrounding the western edge of Texas Southern University, should be renamed after Dr. John Thomas Biggers. Cornelius Ennis was a blockade runner for the Confederacy. Sure, Ennis was a successful business man whose merchandising practice saw his shipments of cotton leave Galveston as early as 1841. Ennis became mayor of Houston in 1856. Ennis’ cotton business was so important to the economy of the era that he bypassed the Union blockade and sent cotton to Havana, Cuba and on to England. Mind you, the cotton and sugar cane enterprises were built on the “backs” of men and women of African descent and Ennis’ business ventures were connected to the “blood sweat and tears” of those people. Dr. Biggers, who students were influenced by his teaching and mentoring, hold truth that the evidence of this influence can be observed in Hannah Hall. There, in Hannah Hall, are three floors of walls, painted with murals offering their interpretations of the struggle of African Americans protecting family, and finding empowerment to fight through the brick walls of racism and life’s hardships.
Then there are the streets named after Rebecca Wheeler and Brigadier General Thomas Moore Scott. Wheeler would marry a Confederate soldier, Benjamin C. Simpson, who served with the Texas Brigade under Brigadier General John Bell Hood. According to some records, Rebecca named Wheeler Avenue after her family who lived in a family compound in what is now downtown Houston. A brief ancestral search, does not provide evidence whether the Wheeler’s are relatives of General Joseph Wheeler. General Wheeler pushed his philosophic knee hard into the neck of people of African descent in a speech in 1894 when he said, “…the extreme leaders of the Republican party would not stop at any excess and would deprive them [the South] of their property.” (e.g. slaves) Wheeler went on to suggest that Northerners were to blame for slavery. Regardless, whether the Wheeler family is of the same genealogical connection, that family is of the same confederate association and the street name should be changed. Barbara Jordan, who fought her way through many struggles to become the congressional representative of the 18th congressional district would be a name more fitting for that street.
Brigadier General Thomas Moore Scott, another confederate soldier, for which Scott Street is named after him, borders the eastern end of Texas Southern University. Of course, I am fully aware that University of Houston is adjacent to Scott Street. It is possible that University of Houston prefers to have that street named after General Scott, after all, one of its major streets through the campus is named for Vice President John Calhoun, as well as a building. Calhoun, of course, was dead set against equality for African Americans, once saying, “Slavery is not a national evil; on the contrary, it is a national benefit.” Calhoun was strongly in favor of slavery.
That issue of streets can be dealt with by those at the University of Houston.
As an American of African descent, I find not one, whose names are on the streets surrounding Texas Southern University, to be one of my heroes. I have had intense conversations with a large number people who think that something should be done to right the wrong of naming streets after Americans who ceded from the Union and fought a war to keep African Americans enslave. We find it especially concerning in neighborhoods that are home for African Americans in large numbers. What if a street was named after Nat Turner was located in a wealthy suburbia neighborhood that was predominantly White? Would screams go up suggesting that Turner was a murderer and not a true freedom fighter as African American’s see him?
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Houston Forward Times or of its clients.