The Confederate soldier monument will remain on the downtown Square, but officials now must decide what “historical context” will surround it.
Denton County commissioners unanimously approved a recommendation put forth by an ad hoc committee that spent nearly three months researching the monument and getting public feedback. The recommendation includes keeping the 100-year-old statue on the Courthouse on the Square lawn, but adding video kiosks and a large plaque denouncing slavery.
Committee chairman John Baines presented commissioners with a broad concept design, saying the current committee would not be responsible for creating the videos or the language on the plaque. Baines said the committee agreed the plaque should have a “strongly worded statement” decrying slavery, while the videos could explore historical race relations in Denton County and honor all veterans who served in any war.
“Our recommendation will simply provide the commissioners with an idea of what the final version will be,” Baines said.
Commissioners put together the committee in October as tensions continued to brew over the monument. Some residents believe the statue celebrates pro-slavery ideals while others believe it honors the soldiers and the history of the county.
The Denton Record-Chronicle reported the committee's 12-3 vote on the recommendation at Thursday's meeting, but Baines said he reached out once more to the committee members to clear up any confusion and get a unanimous approval.
“People don’t realize what it means to work with 15 people where everyone has a mind of their own,” Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell said. “I think the people we selected have a mind of their own, kind of like the five of us.”
Once the recommendation was accepted, each commissioner applauded Baines and the committee for their service, but they added more research will be needed to carry out their plans.
Commissioners seemed worried about placing video kiosks outside, citing bad weather and possible vandalism concerns. There also was a brief discussion about who would come up with the wording on the plaque.
Baines suggested forming another citizen committee to create the wording while Denton County Judge Mary Horn proposed working with the county’s Office of History and Culture along with local university professors.
“[The committee] certainly wants slavery addressed, and I’m fine with that,” Horn said “It needs to be there. Like I said, not all history is pretty.”
Commissioner Hugh Coleman discouraged forming another committee.
“I’m concerned, given the animus and rancor at some of the [public input] meetings, that it would be very difficult to put together a statement that would appease everyone,” he said. Instead, he suggested a quote from the Gettysburg Address or Martin Luther King Jr.
The question of cost also remained unanswered. Coleman said he would be willing to use county funds for the project because the committee’s decision was unanimous. But Horn said she wanted to explore other forms of private funding.
"I have had emails from citizens who say they're not opposed to additional context, but the statue was put up with donated funds and if anything is added, they want it done with donated funds, not county tax dollars," Horn said.
Baines said the committee discussed financing in their meetings and suggested a fundraiser.
“If the commissioners don’t want to do it, then we need to do it, but the whole thing is we need to get it done,” Baines said.
But even a project start date remains uncertain. Commissioner Andy Eads said the court’s next steps should include notifying the Texas Historical Commission of any potential changes and working out technical aspects with the Office of History and Culture.
Coleman says the sooner the project gets going, the better.
“I just want to make sure we’re actively working on it and getting it done,” he said. “Then we can get back to our main job of building roads and funding county agencies.”
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.