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Group sets sights on Square for lynching memorial

A grassroots group has set its sights on the downtown Square for a new monument that would remember residents who were lynched during Denton County’s early history.

About 20 people met Wednesday evening under the umbrella of the Denton County Community Remembrance Project. The local initiative is part of a growing number of communities around the country working with the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, to remember thousands of lives lost to lynching.

Former Denton City Council member Linnie McAdams said the downtown Denton location makes sense because the Square belongs to everyone in the county.

“We’ve been hidden long enough,” McAdams said.

She was among 10 members of the black community at the organizational meeting. Other attendees included several history students researching African American history in Denton County; Denton City Council members Deb Armintor and Paul Meltzer; Roman McAllen, the city’s historic preservation officer; and Peggy Riddle, director of the county’s history office and museums.

In her research on the Ku Klux Klan in Denton County, UNT student Micah Crittenden said installing a lynching monument on the Square also would make historical sense, since Klan marches often ended at the Square.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened last year to popular and critical acclaim. A key feature of the memorial is hundreds of corten steel beams etched with the names and dates of more than 4,400 people who were lynched. In some cases, the names of the murder victims are not known.

That was the case for Denton County, where researchers were only able to document the disappearance of two men taken from the Pilot Point jail in December 1922.

The Alabama memorial and its parent organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, are working with communities that want to create similar memorials. Another UNT history student, Chelsea Stallings, said EJI has approved Denton County’s full participation for a local remembrance.

Participation has three parts: placement of a historical marker, a soil sample and a corten beam. It’s up to the community to find an appropriate place to collect the soil sample and locations to install the historical marker and beam. EJI will pay for the production and shipment of the marker and the beam, Stallings said.

Crittenden suggested at least five possible locations to collect the soil sample, which is meant to represent the bodies and burial of the murder victims. Denton County’s sample would join hundreds of other samples on display at EJI’s Legacy Museum, which is near the memorial in Montgomery. Soil could be collected outside the Pilot Point jail, at a location two miles north of the city where the murders may have occurred, at the Elm Fork bridge (where Klan initiation rites were held), or at either St. John’s Cemetery or the Pilot Point Cemetery, Crittenden said.

The marker and the beam could be installed together, Stallings said.

Both the city and the county have resources that could ensure the site would be designed to echo the thoughtful reverence of the original memorial, McAllen said.

Activist Shaun Treat, who organized the meeting, said the group should be prepared for resistance.

“We should acknowledge the potential for backlash and prepare for it,” Treat said.

The group has a public-facing Facebook page of the same name, the Denton County Community Remembrance Project, which Facebook members can join to receive more information.

The group plans to meet again at 6:30 p.m. July 18 at a Denton Public Library location.

Jeff Woo/DRC 

Denton County Judge Andy Eads, right, speaks to guests during the Denton Chamber of Commerce’s reception for elected officials Wednesday at the Best Western Premier Crown Chase Inn & Suites.

UNT officials still withholding brand audit

The University of North Texas System still has not released a commissioned brand audit, and officials have not responded to a second open records request for the document.

The brand audit, conducted by outside firm Carnegie Dartlet, cost $142,000 plus billed expenses and was designed to look at all three universities in the system and their marketing strategies.

Initially, the Denton Record-Chronicle requested the document on March 5. Last month, the Texas Attorney General’s Office ruled that officials did not have to release the audit. However, the ruling did not bar them from releasing the document.

The ruling said the document didn’t have to be released publicly because of the Boeing decision, a 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling that made it easier to keep negotiations between public and private entities secret.

The Boeing decision was amended by legislation this past legislative session with the passage of Senate Bill 943, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020. The bill makes contract costs, some bids and parts of the communication process public.

Given the upcoming changes, the Record-Chronicle again requested the document Wednesday, May 29.

According to state law, government agencies have to respond to records requests within 10 business days. This means university officials should have responded by Wednesday, June 12.

Neither university official who received the email responded to a follow-up email sent June 13 asking for the status of the request.

On Wednesday, June 19, the Denton Record-Chronicle filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Nearly half of Texans favor outlawing abortion after six weeks, UT/TT Poll finds

AUSTIN — Nearly half of Texas voters — and more than two-thirds of Republicans — would support the kind of ban on abortions in the early stages of pregnancy that lawmakers in Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia recently passed, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Just under half (48%) of Texas voters support making abortion illegal after six weeks of pregnancy, as a half-dozen states have done with “early abortion bans” or “heartbeat bills” that would outlaw abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Another 42% said they oppose such a law.

Party identification marked the biggest divide on the question, with 68% of Republicans saying they would favor an early limit on abortions and 63% of Democrats saying they would oppose it. Proposals to impose these kinds of early limits didn’t advance in the just-finished legislative session.

Overall, 15% of Texans believe abortions should never be permitted, and 37% believe “a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice.” Two more groups are in between: 31% of Texas voters said abortion should be permitted “only in case of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is in danger,” and 13% said the law should permit abortion in other cases “only after the need for the abortion has been clearly established.”

The vast majority of Texans would allow abortion under some circumstances, the poll found, but most Republicans were either altogether opposed (21%) or would allow abortions only in the cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life (47%). More than half of the voters who identified themselves as “pro-life” would allow abortions under any of those three conditions. Among Democrats, 65% would allow abortion as a matter of personal choice. Among the voters who said they are “pro-choice,” 80% favored that alternative.

“Most people are kind of in the middle,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “They don’t think you should be able to get an abortion on a whim. But they support it for strong circumstantial reasons. When you add in a secondary dimension — at what point are we talking about? — then it becomes very interesting. Although this is an issue where there are religious and ideological underpinnings, they are complicated by circumstances and by what point you are in a pregnancy. Timing seems to matter, and it’s where medicine is really complicated.”

Requiring vaccinations

Most Texas voters said they’ve heard about recent outbreaks of measles and other infectious diseases, and a large majority think the government should require their children to be vaccinated against things such as measles, chicken pox, mumps and whooping cough.

But not all voters agree.

While 78% of Texans said parents should be required to have their children vaccinated, 12% disagree, and another 10% have no opinion, the poll found. Support for vaccines is higher among people who know more about those recent cases: 87% of those who said they’ve heard a lot were also in favor of required vaccinations, along with 78% of those who’ve heard “some.” Those who have heard “little” were also less likely to require vaccinations (58%), and those who said they know nothing at all about recent outbreaks (57%) were right behind.

“The vaccination number remains largely unchanged since February,” said James Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-directs the poll. “This time, though, we asked about whether people had heard about it.

“The more you’ve heard about this, it seems, the more you think we should be requiring kids to get vaccinated,” Henson said. “If you’re looking for a bright spot, it’s that.”

Christians, LGBTQ Texans and #MeToo

More Texas voters disagree than agree with this statement: “A sincerely held religious belief is a legitimate reason to exempt someone from laws designed to prevent discrimination.” While 30% agree, 46% do not. The other 24% had no opinion. But the polling reveals the makings of a real wedge issue separating Democrats and Republicans. While 65% of Democrats disagree with the statement, more Republicans (44%) agree than disagree (32%). It also uncovers a sizable difference of opinion between men (37% agree, 42% disagree) and women (23% agree, 51% disagree).

Texas state government is doing too much to protect the rights of Christians, according to 23% of voters; too little, according to 32%; and the right amount, according to 25%. The responses land in the same pattern when voters are asked about whether the state is protecting the rights of LGBTQ Texans: too much (25%), too little (31%) and the right amount (23%).

Beneath that apparent harmony lies a lot of dissonance. Among Democrats, 46% think the state does too much to protect Christians, a view shared by 5% of Republicans. And while 46% of Republicans think the state does too little to protect Christians, only 16% of Democrats agree. The disparities are reversed when it comes to LGBTQ Texans: 40% of Republicans think the state does too much to protect the rights of that group, and only 7% of Democrats agree. Almost two-thirds of Democrats (64%) say the state does too little to protect LGBTQ Texans, and just 6% of Republicans agree.

The partisan divide extends to the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault, which has slightly more detractors (39%) than supporters (35%) among Texas voters. Asked about it, 31% of men said they had favorable opinions of #MeToo and 44% said they have unfavorable opinions. Among women, 38% have positive views and 35% have negative opinions.

But the starkest differences are between Democrats, 63% of whom have favorable views of #MeToo, and Republicans, 64% of whom have negative opinions of it.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from May 31-June 9 and has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.83 percentage points.