8 Historic Symbols That Mean The Opposite of What You Think

#4. The Alamo

Misunderstood By:

Texans, underdogs everywhere.

The Alamo was the site of the last stand of several influential American frontiersmen like David Crockett and Jim Bowie, against an overwhelming force of Mexican Troops. Though a loss for Texas, it inspired the revolution that finally led to their glorious independence.

As the Alamo's website puts it, "People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against impossible odds - a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom." And what a freedom it was! Except for the 5,000 or so slaves who could now legally be declared personal property.

People who say "Remember the Alamo" conveniently neglect to remember that a considerable factor in the Texas Revolution was that dastardly Mexico decided to outlaw slavery, and that didn't wash well with the American slave-owning population, who needed them black folk to pick their cotton while they laid back on the porch sipping margaritas from coconut halves.

Hell, if you want an inspirational symbol for standing up for freedom against overwhelming odds, how about John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry? John Brown was a radical militant abolitionist who launched a real last stand for liberty in 1859. Taking along 20 other men, including freed slaves, he raided the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. By seizing the nation's supply of guns and ammunition, he hoped to initiate a slave revolt and uprising. As seen here:

Despite evidently being 12-feet tall and made of bronze, Brown's mission failed and he was later executed for treason, becoming a symbol and martyr for the struggle against slavery.

While we're on Texas...

#3. The Slogan "Don't Mess With Texas"

Misunderstood By:

Texans anywhere outside of Texas.

We've all been there: One night you're sitting at the bar getting trashed and trying to make eyes with a hot blonde at the pool table when you're interrupted by a guy who, despite the fact that this is New Jersey, is dressed in boots with spurs, leather chaps and a cowboy hat.

He saddles up to the bar, orders some obscure Texas beer he knows they don't have, and settles for a Bud Light. You try to ignore him, but he insists on striking up a one-way conservation about his life in Texas and how great the state is. By now that hot blonde has already left the bar, while the unaware Texan tells a story about the Texas Rangers and ends the story saying, "That's why we say 'Don't Mess with Texas'!"

While he thinks he sounds badass spitting out that tired line, the fact of the matter is he might as well be saying, "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute."

The phrase Don't Mess With Texas is trademarked by the Texas Department of Transportation as part of their anti-littering campaign started in 1986. If anything, that proves that the only people intimidated by that phrase are Texans, thanks to the Department of Transportation's first strike penalty of sending a litterbag to the offenders.

And, while Texans hope the rest of the world doesn't know about the origins of the phrase, there are a few who remember the last time someone actually messed with Texas, which was the Union in the Civil War. Texas was on the losing side and fell without having many significant battles or any Union troops in Texas at the time of surrender.

#2. The Slogan "40 Acres and a Mule"

Misunderstood By:

Activists for Reparations.

You've surely run into this phrase somewhere, depending on what type of activists you hang around and what rap songs you listen to. For instance 40 Acres & A Mule is the name of Spike Lee's production company and record label, and the phrase turns up in songs by Kanye West, Nelly and countless others.


Never forget.

It's a well-worn symbol of America's struggle with racism--the broken promise by the U.S. government to issue freed African slaves each 40 acres of land and a mule after the Civil War. The idea is that 150 years after the end of slavery, African Americans are still waiting for that goddamn mule.

What many don't realize is that, rather than some unfulfilled land/mule redistribution program to make up for that whole slavery thing, "40 Acres and a Mule" was really just a temporary solution by a single military general who wanted some way to get all these freeloading black people off his back.

While General William Tecumseh Sherman's war tactic of simply marching across the continent and destroying everything he saw was pretty effective in shutting down the South's ability to supply itself, it also left a lot of freed slaves standing around smoldering ruins and wondering how they were going to eat.

As a result, many slaves had no choice but to follow the army. The logistics of supplying and protecting a large number of freed slaves was slowing Sherman down and cramping his style, so he hatched a plan to provide them all with 40 acres worth of whatever land wasn't apocalyptically devastated by his passage. This also doubled as an ample opportunity to get rid of his excess mules. Unfortunately, this was just a wartime measure--after all is said and done, taking people's property and handing it to other people is still unconstitutional.

The closest thing to an official free land program that freed slaves were really offered was the Homestead Act, which gave away 160 acres of federal land to anyone willing to improve it. (The number of mules was never officially specified.) Of course, they had to steal this land from the Native Americans first.

#1. Chief Crazy Horse

Misunderstood By:

Clueless white people.

To their credit, white Americans really want to make reparations to the Native American people for that whole attempted genocide thing. One of the most potent symbols of our bourgeoning friendship with the First Americans is that of Sioux chief Crazy Horse, the Native Americans' greatest badass. So progressive is this message that a project is underway in South Dakota to carve an entire mountain into his likeness, so ridiculously huge that it's less than halfway finished after 60 years of work.


Erosion works faster.

While their hearts are in the right place, the irony is that the statue, conceived by Polish American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, was intended as a response to controversy surrounding his other great sculpting project: Mount Rushmore. It kind of misses the point about why defacing mountains in the middle of sacred Native American territory is a bad idea.


Carving shit up isn't solution to all of life's problems.

Unlike us Euro-Americans, who think out national heritage sites like Gettysburg can be made better by putting a Wal-Mart next to them, Native Americans are pretty satisfied leaving holy-enough alone. As Native American actor and activist Russell Means said in an interview: "Imagine going to the holy land in Israel, whether you're a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim, and start carving up the mountain of Zion. It's an insult to our entire being."


But that wouldn't have stopped Ziolkowski.

The real kicker is that Crazy Horse refused to be photographed in his life, and was so adamant about it that no images of him are believed to exist. So, carving a 563-foot tall sculpture of him that dominates the Great Plains actually kind of serves as the most elaborate "fuck you" ever conceived by mankind.

You can read more from Philip at PhilipRodneyMoon.com

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