AUSTIN - The Confederacy created a stir this week in state government.
Days before a longtime state holiday honoring confederate soldiers, rocker Ted Nugent wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate flag on stage at Gov. Rick Perry’s inaugural ball Tuesday. Two days later, a top state official accepted a donation from three history buffs dressed as Confederate soldiers.
“We would never try to squelch anyone’s freedom of expression,” said Perry spokesman Robert Black. “By all accounts, most everyone who was there, who saw (Nugent’s) show, enjoyed it.”
But Gary Bledsoe, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Texas, said the Confederate battle flag is never appropriate.
“Whenever someone sports the Confederate battle flag, many Texans will be offended, and rightly so, because of what it symbolizes the enslavement of African-Americans and more recently the symbol of hate groups and terrorists,” Bledsoe said.
Nugent, the final act of the inaugural ball, wore the cut-off T-shirt and reportedly shouted inflammatory remarks about non-English speakers, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Hundreds of people attended the ball, but most had left before Nugent’s performance.
“I don’t have a problem with him playing for the governor,” Ellis County Republican chairman Rusty Ballard said. “He believes in many of the conservative issues the Republican Party does. I thought it was a great deal having him play. Nugent is a great supporter of the governor.”
Ballard said he also had no issue with Nugent’s use of the Confederate battle flag.
“The flag is a part of Texas’ history and it doesn’t represent what a lot of people have come to believe that it does,” Ballard said. “You can’t try to restrict people’s freedom of expression - especially artists. I don’t think there was any political statement being made, it was just typical Ted Nugent.”
Cleta Blackledge, a Perry supporter who made the icy trek from the Dallas suburb of Richardson for the event said the reaction from those in attendance was mixed.
“Some people were upset by it and some people agreed, like anything else,” Blackledge said. “Many people were sitting at tables in other conversations, not paying much attention to what he said.”
The new Ellis County Democratic chairman, Larry Wilson, said the choice to wear the flag was a poor judgment call.
“Celebrities know that what they wear has an impact on their audience,” Wilson said. “It’s unfortunate that he chose to wear a statement that has become a thumb in the eye of the black community. His appearance was at the inauguration of the governor of Texas, which is an office of all the people. If he wore a shirt with the five other flags of Texas no eyebrows would have been raised. I think it was a poor judgment call on his part or a failure for someone to say, ‘Hey we’re at a governor’s inauguration, don’t wear that.’ ”
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson didn’t have a problem with Nugent’s use of the Confederate flag.
“I don’t think it was inappropriate,” Patterson said Thursday, shortly after accepting a $250 donation from the Descendants of Confederate Veterans for a project to preserve historic maps and records. “Part of his schtick is to generate controversy.”
Three of the descendants, dressed like Confederate soldiers, presented the check to Patterson and posed for photographs.
“Part of the reason we’re doing this today is to have a dialogue on the 200th anniversary of (Robert E.) Lee’s birthday,” Patterson said. Lee’s birthday is celebrated in Texas with Confederate Heroes Day. State offices work with a skeleton crew to commemorate the day, which was made a state holiday in 1931.
Bledsoe countered that the historical significance of the Confederacy should be acknowledged, but not celebrated.
“I know that the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy fought very hard and strong to uphold their cause, but the cause for which they fought was immoral,” Bledsoe said. “You can put lipstick on it, but you can’t change the fact that fighting to preserve the enslavement of other human beings is an immoral cause.”
Numerous statues honoring the Confederacy on the University of Texas campus have become a topic of debate among students, professors and administrators.
University President William Powers Jr. said last month he plans to form an advisory committee to study the issue.
Plaques displaying images of the Confederate battle flag were removed from the Texas Supreme Court building under directives initiated in 2000 by then-Gov. George W. Bush. Then-Lt. Gov. Perry defended the placement of Confederate memorials on state grounds.
“The flag represents the heritage,” Perry said in 2000. “I can see those individuals’ concerns about the battle flag being used as a sign of hatred, particularly by the groups - neo-Nazi, KKK groups - that we all abhor. But you can’t take away the connection to Texas heritage.”