Written by Samuel Collins III
As a student of history, I am constantly seeking opportunities to grow in areas in which I am weak. I recently found out that April is Confederate History month. In 2005 I purchased a home built in the early 1880’s by Henry Martyn Stringfellow, a former confederate soldier. Being a preservationist I frequently open my home in Hitchcock, Texas to the public. I struggle with whether my interpretation of the site should acknowledge his role in the Confederacy or just avoid telling that part of his story.
I recently attended a “Sons of Confederate Veterans” meeting in Galveston. My goal was to share some history about Mr. Stringfellow and to discuss a possible event to be held at Stringfellow Orchards in recognition of Confederate History month.
I discussed this subject with my wife and several different individuals. As an African American and descendant of slaves, should I even consider this? As the owner of this historic site with ties to a confederate soldier, should I not tell the confederate part of the story?
I realized that if I chose to tell only the history that I like about Mr. Stringfellow and the site, then I too would be guilty of discrimination. In the spirit of tolerance, I felt I should at least be open to talking about the subject.
This year marks the 150th year of the beginning of the Civil War. I am the first to admit that I am not a scholar on either subject, yet in researching the Civil War many argue that it was primarily about “economics” or “states’ rights.” I question whether economics or states’ rights should have superseded human rights.
I have been warned that this controversial topic should be avoided. After 150 years we can hopefully sit down to have a civil conversation about Confederate history and the Civil War.
Mr. Stringfellow was a remarkable man. One of the best examples of this is how he treated the 30 African American men working at his orchard in the 1880s and 1890s. When surrounding land owners were only paying them fifty cents per day, he paid each man one dollar per day.
His actions upset many other land owners. They accused Stringfellow of driving up wages. In spite of social pressure to lower his workers’ payment, he paid what he felt was a fair wage. What can we learn today from his example not just with regards to race relations but employer and employee relations?
For this former Confederate soldier, it was about economics. Because of his success he was able to pay the highest wages to attract the best talent. Hopefully the Sesquicentennial gives us an opportunity to talk about the Civil War and Confederate History. On Saturday, April 9, 2011 from 10am until noon I am hosting a round-table discussion on the subjects at my home at Stringfellow Orchards (7902 Hwy 6, Hitchcock, TX).
Sam Collins III is one of three National Trust Advisors representing Texas and owner of the Historic Stringfellow Orchards property in Hitchcock, TX.