Willie Hudspeth

Local activist Willie Hudspeth gives his thoughts about the county’s plans to update the Confederate statue during an interview at his shop on Friday.

Willie Hudspeth usually stands in front of the Confederate soldier statue downtown when he protests it.

On Tuesday, Hudspeth learned during a long-awaited announcement that county officials will include a bronze statue devoted to black history in Denton County behind the soldier that faces Hickory Street.

“When I saw where they put that statue of the African American representation, all of the things that they’ve lied about in years past came crashing in on me,” he said. “It’s bowing down to the leader.”

The plan, as recommended in 2018 by a committee appointed by the commissioners, is to add a granite piece that denounces slavery, add a memorial for black history, and add information kiosks about the Confederate monument.

Officials do not know what all will be said on the new pieces.

And they’ll reconnect the water that feeds the two drinking fountains people have said for generations was segregated for whites only.

There is no doubt Hudspeth is the most prominent critic of the statue, which was erected in 1918, as well as the Denton County Commissioners Court over the years for its handling of the divisive issue.

After the announcement, the Denton Record-Chronicle wanted to know what Hudspeth thinks about the new plan. Here is what Hudspeth had to say, with his answers (and our questions) edited for brevity and clarity.

The county says it will condemn slavery with a granite memorial. Do you think condemning slavery in 2019 goes far enough to address the atrocities that were committed against black people in this country and in this county in the time since until now?

No. Watch the statement they come out with. I’ve been through this so many times. It’ll be general. “Slavery is not something that is good for anyone. We would not be in support as a commission of that. We condemn anybody whose for slavery.” They won’t say, “Our forefathers did something to the human race that God doesn’t condone and we don’t condone, and we’re sorry that it happened, and with all of our efforts we will never let that happen again.”

When we’re talking about monuments, we also are talking about symbols. What do you think about when you think of the symbolism of the new additions the county has proposed? What will this new monument mean to you?

They will be a step in the right direction, but as I said earlier, they won’t go far enough to deal with the real problem we had then and what we’re going to have in the future. What they’re not going to say — for which we have documentation, and it’s coming out — that the leaders in this county who were leaders then have got a foothold in the county now, and they were part of what happened to that statue, and the [Ku Klux] Klan was behind all of it.

Here’s where I’m going to get in trouble, and I don’t care. They owners of the Denton Record-Chronicle were part of that movement. The sheriff at that time was part of the movement. Elected officials at that time. We got names. We have dates. We have hard evidence that what I am telling you is true.

So there’s an other, other part to the story, even after what is going to be erected now, that won’t be mentioned?

One of the things I want mention is, the reason this statue was put here ... and then go into the Klan, go into intimidation, trying to frighten people away.

They’re going to turn the water on. You’ve been lied to about that. You’ve been told it was never on.

Fifteen years.

What does it mean to hear Peggy Riddle, a county official, say they’re turning the water “back on”?

Well, she has to say that now, but before they were saying for 15 years it was never on. I found people in the neighborhood, older women and men, who said, “No, we couldn’t drink from that fountain.” And if they tried to, [white people] would beat them up and run them away from it. So the word got out, “Don’t go down there.”

What you’re faced with is, you have no help. The sheriff’s not going to help. The city’s not, the police’s not going to help you. Elected officials not going to help. You are out there by yourself saying, “I’m going to drink some water if I want to.”

So her saying that, she has no choice. We found that the water was on. So you can’t say, “It was never on,” and hide behind that.

Do you think the county is going far enough to address the other, other side of the story?

No.

Do you think that part will continue to be missing?

Yes. Here’s how you [include] that, I think. We have a historical park. [The commissioners] would never agree, but it would solve all of their problems with that monument. Move that statue to that park and turn the water on.

Put the black history, the Hispanic history, the Native American history in it. Now you walk around the historical park and you take in the whole truth. Quakertown — let’s talk about what you actually did to those people. The same people that erected that statue were behind moving those people in Quakertown.

So a real history of the monument, to you, would be a history of who put it there and who preserved it for so long?

And the reason why they put it there. That’s the one where we keep saying, why don’t you tell that part of it? Because we won’t ever feel vindicated until you do. We just feel like we’re just nothing out here.

Given how long you’ve been in this and what you’ve seen, the arguments made over the years, do you think this is the best the community could do in addressing the Confederate soldier statue?

No. They decided they would come up with this committee because [after] what happened in Charlottesville, heat was on them then, because people were upset, and numbers started to come protest. They had to do something other than business as usual, which is, “Give us time, we’ll come up with something.”

Who gets to put people on the committee? Commissioners. They were trying to figure out a way to keep what they have. They want to keep what they got, give up as little as they possibly can.

They’re talking about setting up a new committee to take the next step, to figure out what words to put on the new pieces. How should that be set up?

According to me? Let them take the people who volunteer to be on the committee. I want to eliminate the commissioners from having any power over it, because they’ve shown that they want it one way and they’ll maneuver it any way possible. But this is just my wish. Let them volunteer; let them [the committee members] be chosen by the people in the county.

It took the county a year and a half to announce these additions. Are you satisfied by that?

At the very beginning I said, “Tell us what you’re doing. Let us give you some feedback, then you can go from there. Tell us what you’re thinking about doing.” The timeline didn’t bother me as much.

Are you saying that these additions, that they announced all at once on Tuesday, should have been publicized sooner and people should have been given the option to weigh in on those decisions along the way?

Yes. And all of the commissioners should have been able to say what they thought. Right now you don’t know which way they think. It’s designed that way. Get more of them involved. Get them to say they think the statue should say. [Former Denton County Judge] Mary Horn said it, she flat said it. The rest of them aren’t saying a thing. So then you get that information out and it will affect the vote, because then we’re going to vote them out, if we find out that’s all they want to do.

You recently had a meeting with Denton County Judge Andy Eads in his office about this and other efforts you care about. What did you all talk about and what did you come away with?

We talked about this very thing. He said, “Just give me time, and you’ll see, I think you’ll like the effort we’re putting into this.” And I noticed — you good white people do this — he put his hands on mine. That just endears me to a person. I just really believe they’re going to be OK and I want to trust them. That was great.

But [when] I saw what he did [in court on Tuesday] I saw ... he was saying, “What are you gonna do now?”

You and others have faced some pretty hostile situations at the foot of that statue. With the new additions, do you think those situations will still occur, or do you think the additions will tamp down those situations?

Most of the time the black community doesn’t say anything. Now they’re calling me because of the things they’re talking about adding. They see the same thing I see. “What’s that? We’re behind the thing.” It really fires them up.

So to answer your question, I think it’s going to get worse.

I keep telling them, don’t pull it down. Don’t tear it down. It’ll be counterproductive. Because they keep talking about that. “I can fix that statue.” And they have a plan. It’s, “The cameras won’t know who I am, we’ll get a truck that’s unidentifiable ... .” I’m saying, don’t come around me with that, because they’re gonna come right to me as soon as you do that.

It’s worse. And now they’re upset. The ones upset are 20- to 30-year-olds, mostly black males, some black females. They’re tired of it.

Do you think with white supremacist terrorism being statistically on the rise, and all the rhetoric from President Donald Trump, for someone in this community thinking about those issues, do you think that statue currently being present makes matters worse for those in our county?

Now, yeah. They mention it all the time. “I can’t believe they have this thing up here; in the 21st century we have that thing? What is wrong with us?”

That’s the young people, though.

Do you think the community will get closure on this issue with the additions they’re proposing?

Not with the ones they’re proposing, no. It won’t get closer. It’ll get separated far apart.

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.

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