Laws, backlash stand in way of local effort
With conflict continuing to brew over Confederate imagery around the country, the effort to remove or replace the Confederate monument on Denton’s Square is at a standstill.
On Wednesday, members of the newly formed Dentonites Against Racist Traditions met to discuss the logistics behind relocating a statue of a Confederate soldier on the Courthouse on the Square lawn. The group plotted a plan for action and made their message clear: The statue is representative of a culture no longer supported by the people of Denton, and should be moved to a museum or replaced.
But the group has said it is committed to following the law, and will seek guidance and involvement for its next step.
“At the moment, we’re trying to ascertain where the community stands on the issue,” group founder Jonathon Vann said. “The backlash has been worse than I thought it would be.”
Chris Florance, director of public information and education for the Texas Historical Commission, said the legal process starts with Denton County.
“It’s something that the county would initiate with us and we would want to see the proposal,” Florance said. “It’s more of a notification process because something that is apparent to the public or viewable requires our notification first.”
Denton County Museums director Peggy Riddle said once the county obtains a petition or proposal, it would be forwarded to the state.
“The statue falls under state law as it is protected by the state antiquities law,” she said.
Florance said the state would then be in communication with the Texas Historical Commission and Denton County to analyze the potential impact of removing the statue.
“It’s on the national register and it’s a recorded Texas landmark,” he said. “The statue in question has been there for almost a century and is considered part of the master plan for the courthouse.”
The statue, dedicated to the city of Denton in 1918 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, is a war memorial commemorating Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.
Some think the statue represents an integral part of history that should not be soon forgotten.
“I think it’s an amazingly complex symbol that, for one, is protected under solid legal oppression,” Garland resident RJ Avery said.
Avery, a 2004 University of North Texas graduate, said he still visits the downtown area weekly and believes trying to remove the statue would be a waste of energy, time and money.
“Personally, I’d like to see the group motivated to raise money and awareness to put up three new arches,” Avery said. “Not denying there are issues, but at this point focusing on flags and monuments really does nothing.”
This past week, statues of Confederate leaders on the University of Texas campus were vandalized following similar debates about the monuments’ locations. Some have suspected Dentonites Against Racist Traditions of wanting to follow a similar course, but Vann, who has spearheaded the movement, said this claim is not true.
“DART and its members do not condone, endorse or want any defacing of the monument,” Vann said. “We just feel there would be a much more suitable location for it so it doesn’t appear our city endorses the Confederacy.”
Riddle noted there are cameras around the courthouse area that can record suspicious activity both inside the building and on the lawn.
On Thursday, Dentonites Against Racist Traditions member Matt Battaglia announced he would be removing himself from the spotlight on the issue.
“I have no place telling people what to do or how to think. I shouldn’t have done those interviews without thinking about what that really meant. I’m not a political activist — I stay out of political debates,” Battaglia posted on his Facebook page. “I love this city, and I have the deepest respect for soldiers who sacrificed their lives in wars they didn’t wage.”
The local debate comes after the events in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were killed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
After the shooting, companies such as Wal-Mart and Amazon pulled merchandise featuring Confederate imagery from their marketplaces, and some government buildings in the South have stopped flying the Confederate flag.
Vann said his group is steadfast in its beliefs and hope to learn from each obstacle.
“We need to find out if there is any precedence for moving a historical marker,” he said. “Ultimately, we want every step to be community-sourced.”
NICHOLAS FRIEDMAN can be reached at 940-566-6897 or on Twitter @NMFreed.