As Mary Horn began her transition from power last year, the then-county judge gave an order that would have made the Confederate monument debate even more difficult.
She told the Denton County Historical Commission to apply for a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark marker for the Confederate soldier monument on the Square, which would have almost certainly sealed off further discussion about whether the divisive monument should be removed. The marker would have officially preserved the monument.
Records obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle reveal that the county was quietly denied by state authorities in late January, well after County Judge Andy Eads took office on Jan. 1.
In its rejection email, the Texas Historical Commission staff cites the monument’s poor condition and lack of complete documentation about how the monument was built.
After all that has been said and debated about the Confederate soldier monument, the county’s application doesn’t sit well with some in Denton.
“I think it’s kind of underhanded,” said Alfredo Sanchez, a community activist who sat on the 2017 committee that was tasked with figuring out whether to remove or keep the monument.
That committee did not recommend the county file for a historical marker. And much of the discussion within that committee had more to do with whether the county should remove the statue. The committee ultimately recommended the county keep the monument but add next to it kiosks with more context about the statue and its problematic past.
After the 2017 committee issued its conclusions, Horn instructed the county’s historical commission to produce the application to the state commission, interviews with Horn and others reveal.
Jonathan Mount, who was then the director of the county commission and the author of the application, said Horn’s instruction to apply for a marker was not related to the committee’s work.
“This was something completely separate, that the judge herself wanted,” Mount said Thursday afternoon. “This is a project that I don’t think the historical commission would have taken up. We were kind of backed into a corner where we had to do it.”
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, both Horn and Eads deny that what the committee recommended and what Horn asked the commission to do were unrelated. They say a historical landmark marker would have given the needed context that the committee recommended.
“They’re totally connected,” Horn said. “We want to do it right, in a very neutral way, in a very historically accurate way.”
Echoing his predecessor’s comments, Eads said of the 2017 citizen committee, “All I can say is, part of their recommendations to us was for us to add additional historic context. We were really seeking the help of the THC to help tell the story of the [monument].”
The Commissioners Court has been silent about the issue since Eads took office this year.
As Eads was taking the reins from Horn, the county paid a contractor to explore whether there were once functioning pipes connecting the monument’s water fountains, which many in the community have said were segregated by race.
At the time, Eads took it upon himself to get the question addressed, he said, because Denton County NAACP President Willie Hudspeth has been asking for an answer to the question for years.
But nothing more has been said on that since Election Day 2018.
At a time when Confederate relics across the nation are being toppled and debates about their removal continue, the THC rejection says Denton County’s Confederate monument isn’t even a high-quality monument.
The Jan. 25 rejection email says the application scored “low in the integrity.” The monument has pieces missing, including one of two orbs that sat on either side of the soldier atop the arch.
And the email says the application’s narrative about the monument is “missing elements such as construction of the monument — the architecture.”
On top of that, the state’s historical commission notes that the downtown Square already has two plaques on other items, calling it a “diversity” issue.
Hudspeth, the monument’s most vocal critic who often squared off with the Horn-led Commissioners Court, said he wasn’t surprised the county’s leaders didn’t say anything when they got rejected by the state.
“It’s what they do,” Hudspeth said Thursday. “I’m glad it was rejected. It’s something that happened in history and a larger amount of the other things that happened in history are not being told and not being disclosed. And the people affected most by it are being ignored.”