Dixie, US Prisons, and J. Frank Dobie

Distance Traveled from San Antonio: 2,159,124 steps

 

Location: Refugio, Beeville, and George West, TX

Churches: Church of the Ascension, St. Philip’s, and Church of the Good Shepherd

 

Opening Prayer

Lord, may our visit to the (name of the pilgrimage site. holy place) help us to unburden all the pain and burden besetting us. Refresh our souls and quench our thirst for Your grace at the site. Moreover, may the holy place convey upon us Your healing power and Divine grace that would allow us to face the world, once again after this pilgrimage, with courage, determination, hope, faith, and love.

 

Welcome to Refugio, Beeville, and George West, TX!

Refugio

Refugio has a population of 2,800 and rests north of Corpus Christi along Hwy 77. Refugio boasts having three major league baseball players from the area: Nolan Ryan, Rocky Bridges, and Dan Firova.

The Episcopal Church of the Ascension serves the Refugio area. They are a part of Partners in Ministry (PIM), and are currently served by The Rev. Virginia Frnka.

We as Episcopalians know just how powerful traditions can be for an institution or organization. For many of us, our lives are full of traditions, whether it be going to a favorite restaurant after a Sunday service or a family game night. The use of traditions is also extremely prevalent when it comes to both those of us who are currently in school or those of us who have long since graduated but fondly remember school fight songs or attending a pep rally. But what does it mean when we are forced to reevaluate our traditions in the name of seeking further social justice? As Episcopalians, this is something we have faced numerous times over the years, and it is something many of us have had to contend with as we attempt to share traditions with other individuals in our lives who may not find the same spark of joy we find. For the town of Refugio and their High School, this needs to reckon with tradition came to a head when in 2020 the Board of Directors for the School District voted to drop the school fight song “Dixie”. To understand why the call to change something as simple as a school’s fight song proved to be a task filled with multiple votes and countless petitions on both sides, we need to understand the history of the song, and how having to hear that song played during ones formative years could have such a tremendous impact on an individual.

The song “Dixie” or as it is also known “Dixie’s Land” is a song from the 1850s written for the predominant form of entertainment at the time, the black minstrel show. The minstrel show consisted of comic skits, musical performances, and dancing acts all while the majority of white performers wore blackface, and used deeply racist caricatures of African Americans as a source of humor. While the song “Dixie” is most often associated with the Southern US, the most commonly held narrative is that the song was written by an Ohio born minstrel performer, with the song being widely adopted in the Confederate States during the Civil War and was used as the de facto anthem for the Confederacy. At the end of the Civil War, the song would continue in popularity and came to be adopted by many Southern groups and societies such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy while advocating that the song was not racist in nature, despite the song in many of its forms directly calling for the bondage of African Americans as the necessary natural order. For African American students in Refugio, this song would feature at sporting events and school assemblies from 1960 until 2020, with students who were descended from those formerly enslaved having to sing along to a song calling for the enslavement of their ancestors.

The year 2020 was a year that will not soon be forgotten for a myriad of reasons, with the topic of social justice and the need for racial reconciliation is one of the prominent focal points of that year. Tradition certainly has its place in our day-to-day lives, and for many of us, the act of having traditions can offer comfort and a connection to happy memories from our past. But as Christians, we must not only ask how our traditions impact ourselves and those we share the pew with but also how it impacts those around us in our day-to-day lives. One cannot disassociate the racist nature of “Dixie” and claim it is only a song, for there are those whose traditions are ones of marginalization and being othered by the nature of their being. To truly come together in the spirit and body of Christ, we must be willing to hold onto some traditions, while also being willing to change for the sake of those we worship and have yet to worship, with.

Beeville

Beeville has a population of 12,800 and is the home of Coastal Bend College. The area was settled by Europeans in the 1830s, and the town’s original name was Maryville after the pioneer Mary Heffernan. It was later changed to Beeville after Barnard E. Bee, Sr., the Secretary of State and Secretary of War for the Republic of Texas. Beeville’s population grew with the oil boom through the 1960s, with a resurgence in population growth during the boom of the Eagle Ford Shale extraction project that began in 2010. Visitors can enjoy museums and Beeville’s historic Main Street. The historic Rialto theater was built in 1922 and still has live performances today.

Episcopalians began worshipping in Beeville in 1888, and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church became a mission in 1893. Their building was completed in 1911 and they reached parish status in 1951. They went through a full renovation project in 2013 and rededicated their church and parish hall in 2014. They will soon (August 15th 2021), be served by The Rev. Andrew Green.

As one drives through the Texas countryside, there are many sites we’ll see that are hallmarks of the image of Texas such as fields of bluebonnets and longhorn grazing in fields. However, in many Texas towns throughout the state, motorists may notice buildings surrounded by barbed wire and tall fences which speak to the larger picture of the high level of incarceration and the prison system in the United States. The town of Beeville Texas is one such town where a motorist will notice not one, but three prisons, providing both employment for these communities but also serving as reminders of the massive rates of incarceration for many citizens. As we have seen in many instances during this pilgrimage there is a long history of extrajudicial violence and acts that have been perpetrated, but we must also acknowledge the long history of how the prison system was both shaped by the US and continues to shape the lives of many who call the nation home.

Recent research from 2016 shows that 2.2 million Americans have been incarcerated, which equates to 655 current inmates per 100,000 individuals. Prison parole, probation, and general operations generate $81 billion annual cost to taxpayers, with a further $100 billion in further costs paid by individuals. And while debtors’ prisons have been outlawed within the US, residents of some states can still be incarcerated for unpaid debts, including those in Texas. Going back further into US history, we find that some of the earliest buildings built during the colonial era were jails, with what is now regarded as one of the models for the modern prison system being built in 1790 by Pennsylvania Quakers, the penitentiary. These early prisons were established with the goal of having those incarcerated repent for their crimes through structured routine and in many instances reading of scripture in absolute silence. Many of those who found their way into these early prisons were then judged to be criminally insane, what we now know as those suffering from mental health problems and disorders. This resulted in an ever growing prison population, especially in the years following the end of the Civil War, with many prison systems shifting to a more retribution style of punishment as overcrowding became an ever increasing problem. The end of the Civil War also saw the growth in the use of convict labor especially in the Jim Crow South as a substitute for formerly enslaved labor, with a higher proportion of individuals of color being incarcerated and forced to work as unpaid labor. Beginning in the 1970’s the US saw an ever growing increase in for profit prisons and detention centers, and with it an expansion of the prison population that in many ways can become a vicious cycle of release and reincarceration of inmates and formerly incarcerated.

The questions that arise from incarceration and how we structure our treatment of those who are incarcerated are numerous and can be truly difficult to discuss. But the discussions of social justice in prisons is an important conversation, especially as with our ever-growing population so too is the population of those who are or have been incarcerated growing. For towns like Beeville who find themselves in close proximity to multiple institutions, these are conversations that require us to not only understand what prejudices and preconceived notions we bring to our discussions, but also what historical biases exist in the narrative of incarceration in the United States.

George West

George West has a population of 2,400 and is named after the cattle rancher George Washington West. It was named the “storytelling capital of Texas” in 2005 and hosts Storyfest each year to highlight cowboy stories, poetry, and music.

The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd serves George West and the surrounding areas. They are a mission under the Diocese of West Texas and hold services every Sunday at 9:30 am with a Bible Study that follows. They are currently served by The Rev. Jim Kee Reeves.


For many first-time visitors flying into Texas, the thoughts in their heads before they land may be filled with classic images of wide-open plains full of cattle and cowboys. Many of these same visitors are surprised when they exit the airport in one of the larger cities to not be surrounded by desert, but instead one of the many bustling metropolitan centers of the state. This dichotomy between the folklore of Texas past and the modern state which we call home is one that many individuals sit astride, including the father of modern Texas folklore the author J. Frank Dobie. Dobie represents the individual with a foot both in the past and the present, a man who wrote extensively on the cowboys of the open range and their longhorn cattle, but who also taught at UT in the heart of Austin and was a champion for social justice. We as Episcopalians can greatly appreciate how Dobie balanced these two worlds, as we too balance the traditions of our faith with the ever-changing world around us.

The future author J. Frank Dobie was born on his family’s cattle ranch near George West Texas in 1888. Growing up Dobie was a frequent reader of classic literature while also an avid listener to the many cowboys and ranch hands who worked on or near his family’s ranch. After completing school and earning his master’s degree at Columbia, Dobie would return to Texas and take up a faculty position at the University of Texas, where he would also become a prominent member of the Texas Folklorist Society. Though the era of the cattle drives and the open range system in Texas had long since passed when Dobie began writing in the 1920s, he was consumed with a desire to preserve these tales of the past for future generations. One of his greatest passions was the work to preserve the Texas longhorn which had fallen out of favor among cattle growers and by the middle of the 20th century was close to extinction. Through his writings and lobbying efforts, Dobie was able to help spread awareness of these cattle and the role they had played in the state’s history, resulting in a renewed popularity for the breed.

While Dobie certainly had a love for the past, he was also concerned with the plight of individuals in modern Texas and was an ardent supporter of social justice efforts. Early in his career with UT, Dobie would call for the university to admit African American students and was a major supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt and his policies during the Depression. These calls for change from both the University and the State would cause Dobie to be forced out of UT in 1947 with the author finding an advisory in then-Governor Coke Stevenson. Despite the end of his career with UT, Dobie would continue to write on the folklore of Texas and publish over 20 books during his lifetime. In 1964 Dobie would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Lyndon Johnson and would pass away only four days later on September 18th.

Humans by our nature are creatures who live betwixt and between the present and the past. Our memories and life histories form the basis of who we are and guide many of our actions, allowing us to navigate our present situations with ever-growing connections and life events adding to our own folklore. The Church also exists in this liminal zone, and it is up to us in the present to live into our faith lives as servants of Christ while also drawing strength from the stories that went before us. Like Dobie we must strive both to remember the stories of our past while also looking to care for those with who we share our world.

Closing Prayer

Lord, you suffered at human hands the pain of false arrest, torture, and unjust punishment, and you commanded us to comfort those in prison. Build a fire in your people, Lord, that we may never learn patience with prejudice or make peace with oppression, but that we may burn with zeal for justice, proportion, and equal protection under the law for all people. In the Name of him who died condemned. Amen.

Next Stop coming Thursday, July 29th

 

Location: Kenedy, Goliad, and Victoria, TX

Distance to Travel: 180,000 steps

Churches: St. Matthew’s, St. Steven’s, Trinity, and St. Francis