GEORGETOWN, Texas — While Confederate statues are being removed and taken down throughout the United States, a petition calling for a plaque with historical context to be added to a Confederate soldier monument is being circulated in Williamson County.
The Georgetown Confederate monument, constructed in 1916 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, stands about 22 feet tall at the south entrance to the Williamson County Courthouse on the downtown square. Some Georgetown and Williamson County residents have called Mayor Dale Ross and county commissioners with concerns about the statue. In 2015, Wilco Judge Dan Gattis said they have no intention of removing the statue.
In 2015, an initial petition in Williamson County called for moving the statue to a Civil War cemetery or museum following the Ferguson riots for the death of Michael Brown and later the Charlestown church shooting where Dylan Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, killed nine churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. That petition got about 400 signatures, but died following a counter petition for the statue to stay that received about 1,000 signatures.
“We were simply saying let’s put it in a more appropriate place instead of the courthouse, a perceived center of justice,” said Lou Snead, a retired Presbyterian minister, who now helps organize local racial justice group Courageous Conversations.
To make any changes to the statue, a State Antiquities permit must be submitted to the Texas Historical Commission. Typically, staff make recommendations on these permits, said Chris Lawrence, Georgetown public information officer.
Since February, Courageous Conversations has been acquiring signatures to apply for a historical plaque from the Texas Historical Commission to be added next to the statue that would provide “the whole truth” about the monument and “deepen our understanding of racial history,” according to the petition.
Supporters say the statue serves as a memorial to Confederate soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Civil War — not racism or slavery, said Ret. Col. Shelby K. Little, a representative of the Williamson County Grays chapter of the Sons of the Confederacy.
“It is a memorial to our veterans just like World War II or Vietnam,” he said. “It does not require historical context and we feel pretty strongly about it. If they want to request some sort of plaque, that’s great. But we are not going to stand by and let them impugn the integrity and legacy of those fellas who fought in the war.”
Snead and Courageous Conversations believe the narrative “heritage, not hate” trivializes the pain and history of African-Americans and their enslaved ancestors, as well as their concerns about racism.
“We believe this Confederate monument reflects the racist views of the Jim Crow era when African Americans were subjected to pronounced racial discrimination, segregation, and racial injustices,” Snead said. “There are those that want to sanitize and mythologize the civil war like how Jefferson Davis wrote it was a just war. There are people who have been misled to believe it, and some that think slavery wasn’t that bad.”
Prior to Sunday, Aug. 20, there had been 10 Confederate statues in the Austin area before University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves called for the removal of the university’s three Confederate-related statues. Fenves said the statues had “become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism,” and had the university’s three statues removed and relocated to the university’s Briscoe Center for American History.
“Erected during the period of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the statues represent the subjugation of African Americans,” he said. “That remains true today for white supremacists who use them to symbolize hatred and bigotry.”
Little said Fenves’ 20 years as faculty at University of California, Berkeley impairs his judgement to Texas values and he acted in an “autocratic manner.”
“I am appalled by the inexplicable widespread ignorance of people,” Little said. “From the public in general, to the pandering politicians from the local level all the way up. It’s a matter of public education.”
There are 178 Confederate monuments in Texas. Since the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, city officials in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio have said they are looking into removing their statues on public property.