A recent Lincoln Project podcast was compelling. Beto O’Rourke defended Texas House Democrats’ desperate exodus from Texas to avoid enactment of legislation built on Trump’s Big Lie.
Voting rights are civil rights. Beto announced a march from Georgetown to Austin, which would culminate Saturday morning with a rally at the Texas Capitol. “It is going to be like Selma,” the Democrat and former Texas congressman proclaimed. Wow! I was too young for Selma, but I’m old enough now.
As Nicholas Riccardi of the Associated Press explained, if Texas approves this law, “it will become harder — and even, sometimes, legally riskier — to cast a ballot in Texas.” The Lone Star state “already has some of the most restrictive election laws in the country.”
What if Texas had Colorado’s gold standard mail-in voting? How about convenient, secure drop boxes instead of one damn drop box for humongous Harris County? In a fair election, Texas Democrats may prevail statewide.
Flying south on my first pandemic flight, I worried more about delta than violence at the Texas march. Northerners going south for civil rights is nothing new. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner went to Mississippi to register Black voters in the summer of 1964. They were kidnapped along with their Black Mississippian colleague, James Chaney.
President Lyndon Johnson, a native Texan, agonized with the parents of those boys missing in Mississippi. Listen to LBJ’s recorded June 23, 1964, heartfelt call to Mrs. Schwerner. Nine days later, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On Aug. 4, 1964, the shot-to-death bodies of Goodman and Schwerner were finally located beneath an earthen dam. Found nearby was the tortured, castrated and bullet-riddled body of James Chaney. White supremacists, many wearing badges, committed this atrocity. Most of America was appalled.
The next summer, televised police violence on the Selma-to-Montgomery marches further rocked America’s sensibilities. This led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by LBJ on Aug. 6, 1965. Johnson was born and died about an hour west of Austin in Stonewall, a Texas community named for Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.
The Jim Crow era in the South birthed many schemes to suppress voting by non-whites. Medgar Evers, MLK, RFK and other civil rights leaders were gunned down while leading America’s non-violent voting rights movement.
Following the Civil War, Texas replicated the architecture of America’s Capitol and completed the tallest building in Texas back in 1885. Colorado completed our similar Capitol in 1894.
Perched on hills, there is grandeur in such solid domed structures. The Texas Capitol is much bigger than Colorado’s. So is the Texas Capitol’s 22-acre site, which has massive room for oversized monuments.
Austin has the western feel of Colorado. However, before our Centennial State was born, Texas joined the Confederate States of America, and still exhibits pride in that vile association. Seven separate Confederate statues and monuments are prominent on Texas Capitol grounds.
Tourists on foot or, like me, on B-cycle, are encouraged to enter the Texas Capitol complex through its grand southern entry. Visitors first encounter the Heroes of the Alamo Monument (erected 1891). As explained in my last column, those Alamo defenders were fighting Mexico’s abolition of slavery.
The next eye-catching shrine is the Confederate Soldiers Monument (erected 1903). Engraved is a declaration these men “died for state (sic) rights guaranteed under the Constitution.” Confederate President Jefferson Davis stands proudly on top.
Next, visitors see a prominent horseman on statue with raised rifle above Terry’s Texas Rangers Monument (erected 1907). Engraved quotes from Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis praise the Texans for being tenacious comrades.
Why must these Confederate leaders still be celebrated? If you want someone old to admire, why not revere Texas native son Willie Nelson, age 88? To see a big statue dedicated to Willie, it’s a short walk from the Capitol in Austin.
Why not a huge Texas state Capitol monument for LBJ and his filibuster-breaking civil rights legislation? To see that, you need to travel several blocks from the Capitol to the University of Texas campus housing the LBJ Library.
Having thoroughly scouted the Texas Capitol complex and Austin, I looked forward to the Saturday morning rally. I biked over early for the last part of the march. A couple thousand people were gathered. We were excited by Willie Nelson’s eleventh-hour announcement he would attend and perform.
Willie and Beto were terrific. So was Luci Baines Johnson. She extolled her father’s civil rights accomplishments and afterwards, approached my location. I complimented her nice speech and said her papa would be proud. She liked that. We elbow bumped with masks on.
America’s latest civil war is setting up like the last one, with Trumpism replacing slavery as the key issue. Some claim LBJ predicted his civil rights legislation would alienate the South for a generation.
President Joe Biden knows American history. So did LBJ. Ending the filibuster on voting rights legislation is necessary to stop Trumpian election-rigging schemes.
For the sake of Colorado, Texas, and our American union, let’s acknowledge this reality, and pass meaningful federal voting rights legislation. If we wait, it may be too late.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
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