Stephen F. Austin Defended Slavery. Should the Texas Capital Be Renamed?

Among the larger-than-life folks in Texas historical past, just one can declare the title “Father of Texas”: Stephen F. Austin, the Virginia-born businessman who reluctantly accepted his father’s dying needs to show the Mexican-controlled territory into an American colony.

While in Texas in the 1820s and 1830s, Austin saved peace with Mexico, recruited white Americans to settle there and helped safe independence for the Republic of Texas. But for his near-mythological standing in the state’s lore, Austin had a much less exalted facet: the defender of slavery who warned that freed slaves would turn into “vagabonds, a nuisance and a menace.”

Over the previous yr, cities throughout the United States have taken stock of what number of of their buildings, streets and parks honor Confederate troopers who fought to protect slavery, ushering in a moment of reckoning for the largely male and white-dominated ideology cemented in monuments and on street indicators. One of these cities is the Texas capital, which bears Stephen F. Austin’s title.

The City of Austin released a 25-page report final week figuring out websites named for Confederates and slave homeowners. Buried close to the finish of the report was an uncomfortable reality about the metropolis’s title itself: The Texas pioneer fought Mexico’s efforts to ban slavery, fearful that the area wouldn’t prosper with out slaves, and demanded that slave homeowners be compensated in the event that they gave up their slaves.

While the report really helpful the renaming of streets like Confederate Drive and the removing of indicators like a Jefferson Davis freeway marker, the delicate challenge of the man behind the metropolis’s title was punted for the City Council to resolve. And greater than doubtless, which means the Austin title will keep.

“I don’t know anyone who is seriously championing to change the name,” stated David Green, a spokesman for the metropolis. “There are things in our past that we may want to acknowledge and look at, but that doesn’t mean you want to rename a city, especially one named after someone who founded a republic that then became a state.”

So far, nobody in a management place in Austin has come out publicly to advocate a reputation change.

On Monday and Tuesday, Austin’s mayor and the metropolis’s 10 council members didn’t reply to questions on the report and whether or not they would help a brand new title for the capital. A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who lives in the Texas Governor’s Mansion in downtown Austin, additionally didn’t reply to a request for remark.

But one high-ranking state official, George P. Bush, the nephew of the former president and Texas governor George W. Bush, made his ideas identified: completely not.

“Without Stephen F. Austin, there’d be no Texas,” Mr. Bush, the land commissioner of Texas and son of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, said on Twitter. “To rename the City of Austin would be an insult to his legacy and all those who fought for Texas independence.”

Stephen F. Austin’s title may be discovered throughout Texas. There is Stephen F. Austin University in East Texas. There is an Austin Elementary School in the Panhandle, one in the Rio Grande Valley and one other in the Permian Basin. His title is about ubiquitous on public buildings and streets as different 19th-century pioneers who settled Texas and received its independence, together with Sam Houston and James Bowie.

Austin’s function in shaping what grew to become the State of Texas is commonly likened to that of President George Washington in the United States. It was a task Austin initially didn’t need.

In the late 1810s, Austin’s father, Moses Austin, had misplaced his fortune in the lead mining enterprise in modern-day Missouri after the War of 1812 and a monetary collapse in 1819. His father, who had resettled his household earlier than in the pursuit of wealth, hatched one other get-rich scheme: colonizing the fertile, untouched lands of Texas.

But Moses Austin died earlier than he might notice his colonization plans and requested his son to hold out his dream. Austin reluctantly agreed. He acquired approval to settle in the bottomlands of the Colorado River, cast diplomatic relations and peace with the Mexican authorities, and persuaded American planters to affix him there.

As the cotton trade boomed throughout the South, Austin realized that the subsequent market could possibly be in Texas. That meant one factor: slave labor.

After the financial system started to surge in Texas, Mexican officers labored to abolish slavery. Austin objected and received an exemption for the colony. When Mexico tried once more, Austin secured a loophole for farmers in Texas, permitting them to free their slaves after which signal them to 99 years of indentured servitude.

He efficiently used diplomacy with Mexican officers, however he finally turned on them after Mexico jailed him for a yr in the early 1830s.

Austin owned a couple of slaves however didn’t make use of them like the farmers who settled in Texas, stated Gregg Cantrell, a historical past professor at Texas Christian University who wrote the 1999 e-book “Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas.”

“He worked tirelessly to make sure that slavery was able to survive in Texas,” Mr. Cantrell stated on Tuesday. “He held a very Jeffersonian view of slavery: He thought it was evil in the abstract but then he would turn around and say in the next breath that Texas must be a slave country.”

Austin and different Americans in the colony desperately wished to turn into a part of the United States. But the challenge of slavery difficult that chance after colonists received the Texas Revolution in 1836. Slavery was already a divisive challenge in the United States and politicians fearful about admitting one other slaveholding state. (After a quick stint as its personal nation, Texas was annexed in 1845.)

Perhaps greater than in another state, Texas’ historical past is ingrained in its tradition. Middle schoolers dedicate two semesters of seventh-grade historical past to studying about Austin, the Battle of the Alamo and different Texas pioneers. Austin’s relationship with slavery just isn’t broadly identified exterior historian circles, Mr. Cantrell stated, however it’s not the purpose he’s revered in Texas.

“If we are going to be removing Stephen F. Austin from the public square or the city’s name, then we need to start with Washington, D.C., and Washington State and Madison, Wis., and Jackson, Miss. Those people were slaveholders too,” he stated. “It’s an absurd proposition.”


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