So the anti-Confederate backlash comes to Dallas . . . but, then, maybe not. Maybe that isn’t fundamentally what happened when the Dallas school board, in June, voted to rename mostly black and Hispanic Jefferson Davis Elementary School for Barbara Jordan, the late Houston congresswoman. Here, likely, is what happened: Within the community at large, a failure of nerve occurred, a moral power outage, leaving residents plunged in darkness. The same failure of nerve afflicted New Orleans over a year ago, when the name of the infamous slaveowner George Washington was removed from an elementary school, to be replaced with —I don’t recall and don’t care to; Sojourner Truth or some like luminary.

You could say, and I wouldn’t argue the point, that on both occasions the antebellum South received deliberate kicks in the groin, and that this form of reprisal was unfortunate and unjust. Davis, Washington: prisoners in a kangaroo court due to peripheral association with the peculiar institution of slavery. Malarkey! Also, you can bet your bottom dollar this species of malarkey is sure to spread, two large Southern cities having capitulated so cravenly.

However, the reputation of Our Glorious Cause isn’t my prime concern at the moment. I’m no nostalgic Confederate, I have to confess, despite the veneration I pay my Confederate great-grandfathers, along with Marse Robert, Bedford Forrest, and—a particular hero of my family—Bishop-General Leonidas Polk.

I don’t reenact. I don’t visit battlefields. For the most part 1 don’t even read (though I stock in my reference library) books about The Waw-uh. Appomattox Courthouse pretty well settled all that. Even at this late date, the whole business is intensely painful to me, given the unhealed, perhaps unhealable, wounds it left. Heartily do I endorse Rhett’s assertion to Scarlett, following the Gettysburg disaster: “Waste always makes me angry. And that’s what this is—sheer waste.”

This isn’t even to mention a few things that make me angrier: ignorance, cowardice, and hypocrisy. Which traits are on conspicuous display in our beloved Southland, thanks to the Davis and Washington controversies.

Now, to begin with, we’re talking here about education. Well, about public schools at least. You might expect, in the context of a controversy over the naming of a school, some attention to historical accuracy. Ah, no.

I’m dropping New Orleans and Washington at this point, this being a “Letter From Texas.” Let’s talk just about Jefferson Davis Elementary School. The parents who originally proposed the name change spoke of the school’s namesake as “a Confederate officer.” One Barbara Kleinman, writing the Dallas Morning News about the matter, called Davis “a Confederate war soldier.” Hold on here. We’ve got opinions on Davis’s right to lend his name to a school, and we don’t even know what job he held during the war? For that matter, we don’t know the war’s right name? Makes you wonder what goes on, or doesn’t, inside Jefferson Davis Elementary School and doubtless a lot of other local public schools.

“The name sends a very bad message,” says Se-Gwyn Tyler, who represents the city council district in which ex-Jefferson Davis Elementary is located. Well, ma’am, do you really know that? Ever read a biography of Davis? Know where he lived, what posts he held before the war? How historians evaluate him? If this is the standard of knowledge regnant at the decision-making level in Dallas, how can one be sure the Davis critics are right that Barbara Jordan is the ideal role model? What do they really know, beyond hearsay, concerning the late congresswoman? That she was black? Ah. That, of course, explains much.

But the question isn’t whether Dallas should honor a black Texas congresswoman with a large national, if not international, reputation. The question is, does the desire to honor said congresswoman drive competing criteria into a corner? Are we just to sit quietly while a dead man is vilified and misrepresented? While history itself is distorted? We’re not to utter a peep or reproach? Not so much as a civil objection? That would seem the case. Back to that failure of nerve I mentioned at the outset. The major fault in the Davis matter, it seems to me, doesn’t attach to those who sought a name change.

The major fault attaches to those who sat through the name-change procedure with eyes and mouths resolutely closed, believing apparently that expiation was a larger public good than truth.

Failure of nerve indeed! Cowardice on the half shell. But what a characteristic modern offering. Hush, we mustn’t offend. Well, actually, it’s all right to offend those who retain some reverence for the dead; we just mustn’t offend members of cultures and subgroups arguing for affirmation.

A great intellectual silence descends over modern society. We can’t talk about everything; we certainly can’t talk in a spirit of honesty. And we know it. This is what rankles: We know we can’t, and we pass it off as of no great or immediate consequence. Failure of nerve.

What ought to have happened in Dallas? Well, on the Jordan-Davis question, there ought to have been a real discussion, some intellectual interplay between those who maintained one view point and those who maintained another. Some scholarly exposition would not have come amiss. The Sons of Confederate Veterans spoke up for Davis, but we all know about them. Why, they sing “Dixie” without tinge of embarrassment!

The scholarly exposition of which I speak should have been conducted at the request of the school board, utilizing historians both pro-Davis and anti-Davis. (By the way, numerous white historians believe Davis himself to have been the real Lost Cause.) Representative Jordan’s merits and demerits—doubtless even she had some of the latter—should likewise have been aired. An intelligent attempt to do the intelligent thing might have been essayed. Both sides in the dispute having been heard respectfully, intelligently, an informed decision could have been made: maybe pro-Davis, maybe pro-Jordan. Whatever the result, the community would have known that representative democracy had, in some important sense, had its innings.

We all know that sort of thing was never in the cards. Honesty regarding race, and especially race in history, no longer is possible. Those who attempt to display it get flayed. Why, the chief of New Jersey’s highway patrol lost his job recently just for remarking publicly on the statistical truth that a lot of black people are involved in drugs. Hush! You don’t say such things. Even if they’re true.

Truth? We’re not interested in that. We’re interested in—well, face it. Peace is what we’re interested in. Don’t yell at me! Pleeeeeeease. You can say what you want, believe what you want. Just don’t—sob, sniffle—call me a Racist/Sexist/Homophobe.

“If there is one thing more unedifying than a ruling class in a position of dominance,” Malcolm Muggeridge wrote nearly 30 years ago, without even having visited modern Dallas, “it is a ruling class, like ours, on the run. They are capable of every folly and misjudgment, mistake their enemies for friends, and, of course, vice versa, and feel bound to go out of their way to encourage whatever and whoever seek their destruction.”

Failure of nerve. Coming to a community near you—if it isn’t already living there under an assumed name.