Last year, the University of Texas at Austin removed four statues from its grounds: three depicting major figures of the Confederacy – which are now part of UT’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History – and one of former Gov. James Stephen Hogg. Hogg served as governor from 1891 to 1895 and was the first person born in the state of Texas to then serve as its governor.
Now, more than a year since the university removed his statue, UT is putting it back up, according to a letter from university President Greg Fenves. The move has drawn criticism from some corners and applause from others.
Virginia Bernhard, professor emerita of history at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and author of the book “The Hoggs of Texas: Letters and Memoirs of an Extraordinary Family,” says Hogg left a complicated legacy after his time as governor.
“He is the people’s governor, in some ways. He fought for the farmers against the giant railroads which were the first big corporation in American history,” Bernhard says. “But he was a major figure in his day in Democratic politics.”
Even as a Democrat in that era, Hogg championed anti-lynching legislation. He proposed putting a bounty on the heads of people who led lynch mobs, which would have been controversial in Texas at the time. But he also signed the first Jim Crow laws. To understand that contradiction, she says, “We have to remember not to be present-minded.”
“In Hogg’s day, all white people were what we would call racist. But Texas was not the only state which went to Jim Crow laws on railroads … [it] was the same nationwide for segregation on railroad cars,” Bernhard says. “Hogg was kind of going with the times, I think, in bowing to popular opinion.”
Bernhard says Hogg let the railroad segregation law pass but did not advocate for it.
In contrast, she says his anti-lynching law was a “brave step” because it ran counter to prevailing law at the time.
“Nationwide, there were no anti-lynching laws for many years, and that was a big battle that remained to be fought,” Bernhard says.
Bernhard says Hogg was a “fair-minded” politician, at least for his time. She says he had a sense for what kind of progressive legislation he could push for and what he couldn’t. The segregation in railroad cars is one example of a discriminatory law that she says Hogg decided to not fight.
“He could see, probably, the light at the end of the tunnel, but I think he just let that go, and he did what he could in other areas to push for rights for the little people, as we might say,” Bernhard says.
Written by Caroline Covington.