The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 sparked something in us all. It’s not that police brutality is something new. It isn’t. History shows that this is not an isolated case. It doesn’t just happen in Minneapolis—it happens in Texas, too. Historical evidence of police brutality, excessive use of force and deaths of African American, Latino, and Indigenous people is older than Texas. What is different is two-fold: we see it now because of videos and social media. And because of quarantine due to the pandemic, we have more time to watch and to respond.
With this statement, the Ruthe Winegarten Foundation is working through the actions we all might take to fix the system that keeps us in this perpetual cycle of racism and abuse.
Our mission is to carry on Ruthe’s legacy, encourage the study of women in Texas history, and foster independent scholarship in that history.
Our vision follows Ruthe’s conviction that stories of unknown women are as important as those of the famous; that women are empowered by knowing their past; and that revealing women’s past is a way of empowering us all to change.
As historians who focus on the history of women in Texas, we can easily focus on pioneers who paved the way, who struggled but prevailed—the “good guys.” That’s part of our vision. Sure, sometimes we peel away to research and write about someone in the shadows, but that’s rare.
But if the study of history reveals all the stories of who did what and when, we have to ask not only who are the Texas women who have fought back against oppression and violence?, like Juanita Craft, Jovita Idar, Leonor Villegas de Magnón, Jessie Daniel Ames, Lulu B. White, and Maude Sampson, and who are the Texas women who have been brutalized or murdered by police?, like Yvette Smith, Shelly Frey, Atatiana Jefferson, Pamela Turner, and Sandra Bland, but also who are the women who advanced racism, which is the basis for the brutality?
As the movement called “Say Her Name” demands, we must reveal the names of African American women as well as men who have been killed by police brutality. We agree. And we have also realized that we must study the women who have participated in and benefited from racist systems. If we don’t examine these women in our history, aren’t we cherry picking women we want to know about in lieu of those we need to know about? If we don’t name the believers in as well as the victims of racism, we can’t see them. If we can’t see them, we can’t fully understand racism. If we can’t understand it, we cannot solve it.
How did we get where we are? If we contend that police brutality is the result of racism combined with power and violence, we have to examine where racism comes from. It is learned. When we scrutinize the role of women in the teaching of racism, we can’t ignore, for example, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).
From 1895 to the end of World War I, UDC members placed hundreds of monuments throughout the South to vindicate and romanticize the Civil War as the “Lost Cause.” Many of these monuments still exist. And to ensure that White children became what they called “living monuments” to this heritage, Texas UDC women like Decca Lamar West and Cornelia Branch Stone created a “catechism” for “Children of the Confederacy” so that they could memorize key points of the Lost Cause myth: the benefits of slavery, states’ rights, secession, and white supremacy; that enslaved people were happy; and that enslavers were kind.
These racist catechisms are still available to UDC members. At the same time, southern states produced curricula and textbooks with the same messages, which were still commonly used in public schools well into the late 20th century. When we hear citizens say the removal of Confederate statues and flags are “erasing our heritage and our history,” we are hearing the UDC catechism. We are hearing what was forced into textbooks used across the state. The UDC still operates as a non-profit organization and continues to influence textbook selection.
The UDC is not the only source of racist propaganda. There are many others giving parents, including mothers, a justification for passing racism on, like a virus, to new generations of Texans who work at all manner of jobs, including teachers and preachers, store owners, politicians, and law enforcement officers. This is the way racist systems continue, making the world a better place for Whites while leaving people of color at a centuries-old and continuing disadvantage.
What can you do?
· Read the “History of Racism in Policing in Texas” here. Share it with others. How we understand history informs the future we help shape.
· Understand these definitions: Racism insists that one cultural group is socially and biologically inferior or superior to another, that these differences explain inequality, and that these inequalities are appropriate. Antiracism insists that cultural groups are equal despite their differences, that there is nothing wrong or right with these groups, and that racist policies are what cause inequality in society.
· Learn more about the history of slavery and white supremacy in Texas and in this country. Contemplate whether, and how, you may have benefited from it. Start with this idea from historian Virginia (Ginny) Garrard: White privilege imposes blinders on those who have benefited from it. This is a hard realization we must continue to work on to overcome.
· Learn about the policies and practices of the police force in your community. If you object, get involved with others to try to change them.
· Examine the school curriculum. Find out if the UDC version of history is still alive in your school. If it is, get it removed.
· Challenge friends and family to examine their own educational backgrounds for racist ideas and work on ways to overcome and eliminate these ideas.
· Contemplate how to improve a system you live in: home, office, school, place of worship, neighborhood, city, county, state, or country.
· Join with women who are working against racism or start your own project.
· The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment is August 26, 2020. Learn how the woman suffrage movement in Texas marginalized women of color and excluded them from it.
· Learn about the experiences of Texas women outside your usual field of vision.
What the Winegarten Foundation will do
· Promote antiracism in our website and our various projects.
· Update and provide relevant reading lists and resources.
· Identify the roles that women have played in teaching racism as well as fighting it.
· Produce a lesson plan for college professors about the UDC.
· Support the work of researchers and historians working on sexism and racism in Texas history.
· Stand publicly with individuals and groups who fight racism in Texas.
· Expand our board to reflect the diverse voices and experiences of Texas women in the present as well as in Texas history.