LEWISVILLE — More than 100 years have passed since the Confederate soldier statue was raised in downtown Denton, and in a meeting Tuesday night that lasted no longer than it takes to drive from the foot of the statue to the Precinct 3 Building in Lewisville, a handful of people asked Denton County officials to acknowledge it as a beacon for the “lost cause.”
It was a meeting so short Denton County’s history and culture director missed the whole thing.
“Is it over?” Peggy Riddle said as she walked into the building.
About 20 minutes was all it took for another four people, all but one saying they are from Denton, to give a committee their suggestions on how the Confederate soldier statue in downtown Denton should be contextualized.
“It was put there to send a message to black people to stay in their place,” one speaker from Denton said.
As cities around the nation debated what to do with the hundreds of Confederate monuments, a committee appointed in 2017 by Denton County commissioners recommended Denton’s monument should stay but context about its racist origins should be added.
This new committee, set up this year, is charged with making a recommendation to the commissioners about which words will give the proper context. The plan includes the addition of a new plaque, digital kiosks and a statue devoted to black history here. Tuesday’s meeting was the second of a four-part listening tour across the county meant to gather suggestions.
One person who spoke Tuesday said the statue should be framed with the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, a wish many others who have expressed their opinions about the statue share.
Denton County’s first meeting last week in Cross Roads ended where it began, with Denton County Judge Andy Eads reminding people the official plan is to contextualize the statue instead of removing it. Of the roughly dozen-or-so people who showed up to the meeting, all who spoke said they wanted the statue removed. There were virtually no earnest suggests as to how the monument’s racist effect should be contextualized.
County commissioners do have the authority to reverse course if they so choose, but so far the officials have not shown any sign of that is what they’ll do, though most who have engaged the county under its current plan want the statue removed.
In messages to the committee’s feedback email, people seemed more willing to give suggestions to the commissioners’ preferred plan. Some people gave their suggestions but also said they’d prefer the county to remove it.
One person asked the committee to acknowledge the erasure of Quakertown, a black community in the middle of town, as a way for the community to own up for the atrocities during the Jim Crow era, a period during which the Denton’s Confederate monument was raised in downtown.
At Tuesday’s meeting, University of North Texas researcher Jessica Luther Rummel, whose digs into Denton’s monument are particularly keen on the activities of those involved with the group that hoisted the monument, harped on that same point.
“It was the same women who petitioned for the removal of black citizens from the inner city of Denton that erected the Confederate monument,” Rummel said.
Similar efforts to contextualize Confederate monuments have floundered. In Charleston, South Carolina, a city historical commission was tasked with adding a plaque with more information about a John C. Calhoun monument. That plan stalled when city officials could not agree on what the plaque should say.
But there are success stories. In Dekalb County, Georgia, officials guided its contextualization efforts toward an outcome that included language about the “lost cause” and the racial animosities that led to the statues in the first place. One person emailed the committee suggesting Denton County follow that route.
The next meeting is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, located at 1300 Wilson Street in Denton.