KAUFMAN – People who support keeping the Confederate statue at the Kaufman County Courthouse had their turn at the microphone Tuesday.
In comments before the commissioner’s court, several speakers maintained that the real aim of advocates for removing Confederate monuments is to erase history and invalidate the nation’s underpinnings. Several others said the campaign to remove Confederate monuments stems from the Black Lives Matter movement in combination with Antifa. One speaker said some supporters of keeping the monument in place feel threatened, and she laid blame for the controversy in Kaufman County at the feet of the local Democratic Party.
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 at the courthouse in Kaufman was erected in 1911. It was taken down and reinstalled when the new courthouse was built in 1956. At a meeting in July, 18 people addressed commissioners with most backing formation of a 15-member citizens’ commission tasked with forming a consensus about the monument’s future. The speakers generally voiced support for removing the statue, calling it an affront to African-Americans. Commissioners in July approved forming the commission.
On Tuesday, nine people spoke in support of the statue, and a few others ceded their time to Jennifer Robinson, who’s been at the forefront in defense of Confederate monuments.
Robinson said she has immersed herself in Civil War history and read original source documents from people who experienced the war. “We have half a country that has absolutely no idea about half of what’s gone on in this country. Because of that, we have people who believe that this cenotaph is something that was meant to intimidate people. There are much easier ways to intimate people than to scrimp and save to put a sculpture up,” Robinson said.
“These people need to evaluate their perceptions and see that perhaps this isn’t an intimidation source. And perhaps this (taking down the monument) is not going to fix the problem they say it’s going to fix,” she added.
Confederate monuments have been coming down for three years in Dallas, “yet somehow things aren’t any better. That’s because the monuments aren’t the problem; it’s the people. People aren’t taking responsibility for their own choices; they’d rather blame others for the bad things that happen in their lives,” Robinson stated.
She scoffed at white people for believing that removal of Confederate monuments will make life better for black people.
“If they are so concerned about the problems in the black community, then why are they not out there working with those youths, teaching them communications skills, helping them to read and write better so they can communicate and work in a professional environment so they can better themselves?” Robinson said.
Then she took aim at the Democratic Party, which she blamed for sparking the controversy.
“It is Democrats in this county who have started this,” Robinson said. “They have been planning an attack on this cenotaph for approximately a year that I’m aware of. Based on the comments that I have seen of the Democrats on the Kaufman County Democrat (Facebook) page, they knew what would happen when they attacked. They knew that people would stand up, that they would go protect that monument, and they would protect this town.”
Robinson said supporters of the monument have been labeled racists and some are afraid for their safety. Business people have been intimidated by threats of boycotts for signing their names to a petition calling for the monument to stay, she said.
“What will happen if you take this down is you’re going to see even more division among the people here,” Robinson said.
Sarah Whitaker, chairwoman of he Kaufman County Democratic Party, said in a statement: “The Kaufman County Democratic Party will never support violence to change anything and we believe hate speech or antagonistic actions are wrong no matter where they come from. The moral people of the Kaufman County Democratic Party are not rioting in the streets, tearing down buildings, or defacing property in any way, nor have we threatened anyone. Other people came to a peaceful march in Kaufman bearing guns and handing out Confederate flags, not the Kaufman County Democratic Party. We are legally petitioning our county government to remove (not tear down) the symbol of slavery, Jim Crow, voter suppression and hatred, so that all of the citizens of Kaufman County feel comfortable accessing county services.”
Another speaker Tuesday, Mark Kuban of Forney, urged commissioners not to “cave in” to Black Like Matter and Antifa. “That’s who’s behind it,” he said.
Antifa is a political protest movement comprising groups and individuals who fiercely oppose fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology. Antifa has been accused of inciting violence at protests in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, as have some far right organizations.
Kuban also criticized commissioners for what he called “passing the buck” on the issue and placing it with the citizen’s commission.
Members of the citizen’s commission, which includes three appointments from each member of the commissioner’s court, were expected to meet soon for the first time. The commission was formed so that people could air their views and then submit a consensus opinion to commissioners, who have ultimate authority over the statue, according to Precinct 3 Commissioner Terry Barber.
Commissioners had considered placing a monument question before voters in November but were informed the State of Texas does not allow such issues on the ballot, Barber said.
Another speaker Tuesday, Daniel Shannon of Kaufman, said the effort to remove the monument is an attempt to change history. The cenotaph, he said, is not about racism or slavery, which he called “an atrocity.” The monument’s purpose, he said, is to honor the men who died on battlefields far away in defense of their homes and families.