At a long table in the center of Harvest House on Hickory Street on Wednesday afternoon, members of a group that’s branded itself as Dentonites Against Racist Traditions discussed their agenda.
The racist tradition in the group’s sight? The Confederate veterans monument on the lawn of the downtown Square.
After nine people were killed in a mass shooting June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, emblems of violence and racial intolerance are being seen as signs that might facilitate change.
After the call for the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse grounds, other state governments and civilians mobilized for similar recourse, companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon dropped Confederate-themed merchandise from their marketplaces. Busts and statues are being removed from government property throughout the South, and at the University of Texas in Austin, statues of Confederate leaders have been vandalized.
Similarly, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that Texas did not violate the First Amendment after banning license plates displaying Confederate imagery.
In Denton, the call to remove or replace the Confederate veterans monument on the Square is not new, but it is being brought up once again in response to current events. Previous movements to remove the monument were led by current Denton NAACP president Willie Hudspeth and University of North Texas students. Hudspeth could not be reached for comment.
Dentonites Against Racist Traditions has taken the reins for the latest call to address the monument.
“I have been made aware that this issue has been brought up by citizens of all racial backgrounds every few years for over a decade,” said group member Hale Baskin, a Denton musician. “We first want to determine if the majority of Dentonites agree that the memorial should be relocated and replaced. If so, we seek to facilitate this change in any way possible.”
Baskin led Wednesday’s discussion with group founder Jonathon Vann and local resident Matt Battaglia as they pressed through topics of discussion and decided on mission statements.
“When I learned about the Civil War, I asked my father why we had a statue of the bad guys in our city,” Battaglia said. “He didn’t have a good answer for me, because there is no good answer.”
Battaglia said as he got older, he learned that the Daughters of the Confederacy had erected the statue in 1918 as a tribute to Confederate soldiers lost in the Civil War. The monument was equipped with drinking fountains, though the Denton County Office of History and Culture has no record of the fountains ever being plumbed for use. Some longtime Denton residents recall drinking from the fountains, and that it was racially segregated.
Judy Flowers, who is listed as the current president of the Denton chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, could not be reached for a comment.
Denton resident Vanessa Powers said she doesn’t think moving the fountain is the right decision, and it should serve as a symbol of how far the country has come since the war.
“I don’t understand how anyone can allow a piece of cloth or symbol determine how they feel,” she said. “Use it as a teaching moment. Let’s not ever let something like that happen ever again. It’s like they want to remove being a Southerner or make it where you’re ashamed of it.”
She said she hopes groups like Dentonites Against Racist Traditions are willing to compromise and consider adding a new statue in addition to the current one.
“I don’t see hate when I look at these things like the flag or a statue,” Powers said. “I see history. I was born here in Texas and really hate to see our country torn apart by things we cannot change.”
Moving the monument could prove difficult and may be impossible. The Denton County Courthouse on the Square, along with its lawn and sidewalks, became a Texas Historic Landmark in 1970 and is thus subject to Texas Historical Commission rules. The courthouse was later placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Calls to the state commission weren’t returned by press time.
During its meeting, Dentonites Against Racist Traditions addressed these concerns, and planned a course of action. Vann said the group will take the legal actions necessary in finding a solution, and attendees at the meeting offered up options like moving the monument to a Civil War cemetery or a museum.
Battaglia said the group is looking at the legalities behind the movement of the monument and looking at all possible options for relocation. Other members brainstormed additional monuments that could one day be part of the Square.
“When outsiders come to Denton and see our beautiful Square, they see this monument and think it’s representative of Denton,” Battaglia said. “The Confederacy’s impact is still being felt in the U.S. to this day, and allowing the monument to stand as a gateway to our city is counterproductive.”
NICHOLAS FRIEDMAN can be reached at 940-566-6897 or on Twitter @NMFreed.