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Denton residents line up to ask commissioners to move Confederate monument

Willie Hudspeth is usually the only one who speaks at Denton County Commissioners Court meetings about the Confederate monument on the Square.

Since about 2000, he's asked commissioners to move it, modify it or add other pieces of black history around it. More recently, he's asked commissioners to simply put the topic on their agenda for discussion.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, 16 other people joined him to speak. They urged commissioners to remove or relocate a Confederate monument that they feel celebrates slavery and racism in the country.

"I've given you a compromised position — why don't you add something else to the historical site? I've also said, turn the [water fountains on the monument] back on," Hudspeth said as he addressed commissioners. "To all of those, I've gotten no response from you."

Willie Hudspeth outside his store on W Oak St, Friday, September 11, 2015, in Denton, TX. David Minton/DRCDRC
Willie Hudspeth outside his store on W Oak St, Friday, September 11, 2015, in Denton, TX. David Minton/DRC

Denton County Judge Mary Horn said after the meeting that she doesn't plan to put the item on the agenda for discussion.

Two weeks ago, when white supremacist groups violently clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, the conflict revived a national conversation about whether Confederate monuments overtly symbolize racism. Denton residents added their voices to the conversation, with up to 80 people gathered on the courthouse lawn Saturday to protest the Confederate memorial on the Square.

There are others throughout the country, as well as in Denton, who feel the monuments should stay put. They feel that removing them would be an attempt to revise or completely erase history.

Horn is among those who want to keep the monument in place.

"I'm really sticking to my feelings that the monument is for the soldiers," Horn said after the meeting. "I would remind people that we have a monument in Washington, D.C., that's for the soldiers killed in Vietnam. And I don't want that wall taken down."

This isn't the first time the county faced public criticism over the monument. Protests broke out around the structure in the summer of 2015 after someone spray-painted "This is racist" on the arch.

Denton County is in charge of the memorial, as well as anything else on the courthouse property. But any time officials want to make structural changes to any aspect of the property, they first must notify the Texas Historical Commission.

Horn said the county asked for the commission's advice on removing the monument in 2015. 

"They had somebody come up here and actually look at the monument," she said. "To disassemble it and try to move it would destroy the monument, in their opinion."

According to a 2015 report in the Denton Record-Chronicle, officials at the Texas Historical Commission said a good stone mason could move the monument. Michael Hunt, the owner of a San Antonio-based masonry contractor, Hunt Restorations, told the paper it would take about five days and $15,000 to dismantle and reinstall the structure.

He said his company would install scaffolding around the monument to complete the job.

"We'd start from the top and take the gentleman down first," Hunt said at the time.

The monument was first erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1918, according to county archives. The statue on top of the arch doesn't depict anyone in particular; it's simply a generic Confederate soldier holding a rifle.

At Tuesday's meeting, speakers lined up against the back wall of the courtroom. Some held signs in protest of the statue, while others held up T-shirts reading, "Love, not hate, makes America great." Residents wore the same T-shirts during Saturday's protest on the Square.

At Tuesday's Commissioners Court meeting, people lined up against the back wall of the courtroom to speak out against the Confederate monument on the Square. Some held signs in protest, while others wore T-shirts reading, "Love, not hate, makes America great."DRC
At Tuesday's Commissioners Court meeting, people lined up against the back wall of the courtroom to speak out against the Confederate monument on the Square. Some held signs in protest, while others wore T-shirts reading, "Love, not hate, makes America great."

"It's good to see the majority of people are on the right side of this issue," Denton resident Paxton Swisher told commissioners. "And no, the right side of this issue is not historical revisions, but on the side of putting this Confederate soldier memorial into its proper historical context."

Paxton was one of several speakers in favor of moving the statue to an indoor museum. Some people cited other Texas cities that have either removed or plan to remove their Confederate monuments.

"Most in favor of keeping the monument in place credit the preservation of history as their cause, but it's museums that teach us about the mistakes of history," Denton resident Jessica Luther said. "Monuments to leaders of those mistakes only serve to inspire those who would repeat them."

The majority of the public speakers were white, but several black and Hispanic people also gave public comments in support of moving the statue. One woman carried an infant child while she addressed commissioners.

Outside, 55-year-old Carol Mize paced in front of the Confederate memorial with a trans-Mississippi Confederate flag, which is in a different color pattern than the best-known Confederate flag. She said she's from Mississippi and was visiting family in southern Oklahoma.

Mize, a self-proclaimed Civil War historian, said she often travels to Confederate memorials in the area to educate people on the history of the South. She said she's interested in preserving the history of the Confederacy because she has seven ancestors who fought for the South in the Civil War.

"I honestly don't believe that the folks that are hollering, 'Take them down. They're racist,' understand what it's like to have relatives who fought in that war and have no idea where their bodies are," she said. "[The monuments] are all we've got to worship."

In other action

After the public comments, commissioners held the first of two public hearings on the proposed tax rate and budget for fiscal year 2017-18.

The fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and commissioners will approve both the budget and the tax rate at a public hearing on Sept. 5.

They are proposing county residents pay 23.7812 cents per $100 property valuation for 2017-18. The current rate is 24.8409 cents.

This year's average home value in Denton County is $298,968. Next year, the county government's portion of the home's tax bill would be nearly $711.

The budget is set to increase by about $26.5 million. The biggest changes include a $9 million increase in employee salary adjustments, a $5.9 million increase in debt service payments and $2.3 million increase in new hires. 

Another public hearing on the proposed 2017-18 county budget and tax rate will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, in the Commissioners Courtroom, located on the second floor of the Courthouse on the Square.

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.