Williamson County commissioners vote no on explanatory plaque for Confederate statue

Social justice groups aimed to provide historical context to Confederate soldier monument


GEORGETOWN — Williamson County commissioners voted 4-1 to not take action on applying for a explanatory history plaque that would be placed next to a statue of a Confederate soldier near the county courthouse at their Nov. 14 meeting.

The plaque, if applied for to the nonpartisan Texas Historical Commission, would likely have detailed the role the state of Texas played in the Civil War and mention slavery and the Jim Crow era. The words would have been determined by state historians, and the commissioners court would have needed to approve the final version.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Terry Cook was the lone supporter for the plaque. Cook said she thought the statue should remain, and while the plaque wouldn’t wholly fix the controversial situation, she ultimately supported it.

“I am fine with the statue staying there, but in it of itself and by itself, it really looks around and says, ‘Remember these laws were written by whites, for whites, so come on in the courthouse,’” Cook said. “I am all for trying to enlarge the picture and trying to educate how blacks felt, how Hispanics might feel today.”

Commissioner Valerie Covey and County Judge Dan Gattis said they heard “overwhelmingly” from constituents and emails that they did not want the Confederate statue removed, nor did they want the plaque added.

“I think there needs to be a conversation and exploring what else can be done to relieve that pressure. I worry if we agree to put that plaque up, another group will come wanting to have it taken down,” Gattis said.“I am looking for a solution to make all of the citizens of Williamson County feel comfortable.”

The commissioners against the plaque expressed interest in exploring alternatives to alleviate some of the controversy surrounding the statue and its symbolism. Commissioner Larry Madsen said he liked an idea about building a statue about the civil rights era on courthouse lawn that was proposed by Rev. Kurt Hein before the commissioners voted.

The historical plaque was requested by two local social justice groups, Courageous Conversations and Undoing Racism of Round Rock.

Last year the commissioners tabled a similar request from the groups without taking a vote, and sought more feedback from the community about the proposal.

Lou Snead, a retired Presbyterian minister with Courageous Conversations, said they had gathered about 300 signatures from Williamson County Residents that expressed interest in the plaque. Snead said the group is welcoming to alternatives and hopes to be a part of the conversation.

“This issue won’t go away, it’s a national conversation now,” Snead said. “There’s white supremacy that’s embedded in the symbolism of the Confederacy, and more an more people are realizing that. It takes some moral courage and political will to acknowledge the mistakes of the past.”

Supporters of the statue say the statue serves as a memorial to Confederate soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Civil War — not racism or slavery, said Ret. Col. Shelby K. Little, a representative of the Williamson County Grays chapter of the Sons of the Confederacy.

“The vote was reflective of the attitudes we have here in Williamson County,” he said.