The Confederate soldier cenotaph will stay in place at the Kaufman County Courthouse after county commissioners on Tuesday decided against its removal.
“If I truly believed that taking down this statue could change the way we look at each other as human beings and respect each other – if it could change that – I would be for moving it in a heartbeat. I don’t think moving the statue is going to change how we look at each other,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Hunt said in explaining his stance.
Hunt’s remarks drew similar comments from other commissioners, all of whom were not of a mind to relocate the monument. Commissioners took no action on the matter.
Kaufman County commissioners have wrestled with the monument issue since protests erupted across the nation over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. The Confederate soldier cenotaph in Kaufman was erected in 1911. It was removed at one point and taken to the county poor farm. The Kaufman County Historical Society, however, recovered and restored the monument, and it was erected again at the courthouse.
Its location in front of the Kaufman County Courthouse drew criticism from some quarters as a symbol of oppression against black Americans, a monument to slavery, Jim Crow and white supremacy.
Those who wanted to keep it argued that it honors the lives of men from Kaufman County who died in the Civil War. The statue, they said, represents history and heritage.
The Commissioners Court appointed a citizens monument commission to solicit public input on what should become of the monument. The citizens commission held 14 public hearings on the matter, but in the end it made no recommendation to the Commissioners Court.
Much was said Tuesday about history, that although history cannot be changed its lessons can shape the future.
“The mistakes I’ve made and the things I’ve done right are part of me,” said Hunt. “I think it’s foolish on my part not to acknowledge the mistakes I’ve made. We have our history, but we need to acknowledge some of our faults of what we've done as a nation and as a people and as individuals.”
Hunt said he applauds those who raised the monument issue for starting a broader conversation about racial justice.
“We all see things different, but I think we have a problem nationwide with systemic racism. It’s been here since the world began,” said Hunt.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Skeet Phillips said the focus today should be on what happens moving forward.
“You need to address the future, not the past,” he said. “That’s what we should be talking about, changing the future. If you want progress and you want relationships, you want people to be kind to other people and understand what they feel, then you need to address the future not the past.”
Still, the past should not be forgotten, he said. “You can only learn from the past. You can only learn from your mistakes.”
Phillips pointed out that the monument will be standing in front of an old courthouse before too long. Within a few years, the county will construct a new Justice Center that will house its civil and criminal justice system.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken Cates said the communication he received from constituents was overwhelmingly in favor of leaving the statue in place.
“History is history. You can ignore history but it doesn’t change,” said Cates. “If we don’t acknowledge our history and we don’t learn from it … we're doomed to repeat mistakes of the past.”
Most people today can “delineate the wheat from the chafe,” to embrace the positive things from the past without keeping hold of its flaws, he said.
“In America, we have evolved as a society; we’re certainly far from perfect, but I think that our evolution, our culture has had a great leap forward from the time of the Civil War and that horrible conflict.”
The way the county functions today is of far greater value than the monument at the courthouse, he suggested.
“I think our living example of how we conduct ourselves, of how we treat each other, but particularly how our government and our justice system does in fact deliver blind justice … I think that we live the example that might overwhelm any negative connotations that might minutely remain from our Confederate statue across the street.”
County Judge Hal Richards said he believed civil dialogue on the issue of the monument was beneficial to the county.
“I think good things come when people are willing to have a conversation and talk to each other,” Richards said. “Trying to hear and understand what someone else believes in their heart has great value.”