Confederate meeting at MLK Jr. Rec Center

Denton County Courthouse on the Square Art Committee member Sheryl English (seated at table, second from right) engages with a speaker during a Monday meeting. The meeting was the third of four listening meetings aimed at gathering suggestions for adding context to the Confederate soldier monument in downtown Denton. English was appointed to the committee by Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell.

Sheryl English was placed on the newest Confederate soldier monument committee, in part, to listen to what words and symbols community members think should be used to contextualize the statue’s racist origins. On Monday night, her words exemplified the distance between the people who show up to the committee’s listening meetings and Denton County officials who planned them.

County officials insist that a 2017 plan to not remove the statue from downtown and instead add historical context to it is the best path forward to address the divisive statute. Still, despite everything County Judge Andy Eads and other officials say, the majority of people who have weighed in on the plan — in listening meetings and emails to the committee — want the statue to be removed.

Just after the 10th person spoke Monday night at the listening meeting at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, English broke her silence. Most everybody who stood up to speak talked about how the statute doesn’t belong in downtown or how it was unfair that a committee of 15 people decided in the 2017 plan to keep the statue.

“We’re just going to keep beating the dead horse,” English said toward the end of her remarks. “Because if we do what you want, then it’ll be something else, and it’s always going to be something else.”

English, who said her family is from Philadelphia, Mississippi, said as a black mother her greatest concern with racism is not at all the Confederate statue from 1918 but rather with institutionalized racism that beleaguers black people today.

“I don’t pay attention to that statue,” she said. “That statue means nothing. What I want is my son to come home at night and [me] not have to worry if the police have stopped him and if he’s going to get killed by the police, or my daughter.”

In a speech that began with a critical look at the mostly white audience — “I don’t want anyone to be offended, but I don’t see a whole room full of black people who want that statue removed” — English ended with a call for the room to refocus and stop criticizing the previous committee for its decision. It’s time to move forward, she said.

Of the 33 people who have emailed the committee as of Nov. 12, about half of them asked the county to either move the statue away from downtown or asked the county to reconsider its current plan. About 12 people said they either supported the current plan or did not find the statue’s position in downtown to be problematic. Some of the commenters neither took a stance nor made a suggestion.

Among those who want the statue gone, most say they have an issue with where it sits in downtown Denton.

And most everybody who has shown up to the meetings has asked for the monument to be removed.

Willie Hudspeth, who is black, said during Monday’s meeting that “the best context is moving it” to a more historically appropriate area, such as a museum or cemetery. Linnie McAdams, who also is black, said, “There is simply not enough room on the Square to have a proper acknowledgement for what happened to blacks.”

That line of thinking has clearly fatigued the committee. Before English said her piece, Eads and others have continuously reminded people such as Hudspeth of their official plan.

During Monday’s meeting — which had more than double the attendance of the first two meetings — John Baines, who chaired the 2017 committee, read his report recommending the current path. That reading did not occur at the first two meetings. Denton resident Reid Ferring, who is white, spoke first and said Baines’ presentation thwarted his original speech, which was to call for the statue’s removal.

Margarete Neale, who is white, said the 2017 committee’s recommendation “was a gut punch” to her and others who wanted the statue gone.

It was 1918 when the statue in downtown went up. That was well after the Civil War and during the Jim Crow era, when black people were violently attacked by white mobs and disenfranchised by laws. To those oppose to the statue, it is a symbol of intimidation for black people who live in and visit Denton.

With the committee and county officials still struggling to get people on board with its plan, the committee will meet one more time, at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Southwest Courthouse, 6400 Canyon Falls Drive in Flower Mound.

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

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