A Gainesville Confederate Statue is Gone. Activists Say There's More Work to Be Done.

There were two Confederate statues in Gainesville.
There were two Confederate statues in Gainesville. Justin Thompson
Justin Thompson was so happy he almost started crying. On Wednesday, the activist rushed to Gainesville’s Leonard Park, filming a construction truck creaking under the weight of the old Confederate statue.

For months, Thompson and fellow anti-racism organizers protested against the monument. Finally, the stone soldier had spent its last day overlooking the peaceful park.

“I feel so excited,” Thompson said. “We’re all just jumping for glee.”

Thompson is co-founder of the grassroots group PRO Gainesville, which had pushed since last year to remove both of the town’s Confederate statues. The organization attracted considerable attention in Gainesville, home to some 17,000 residents and located around 70 miles north of Dallas.

Still, Wednesday’s removal was big news for the grassroots group, which had regularly butted heads with city and county leadership. And while PRO Gainesville members were undoubtedly excited, they say there’s still more work to do.

Last July, amid a surge in Black Lives Matter protests, Gainesville City Council voted unanimously to remove the Leonard Park statue. But Cooke County Commissioners the following month chose to keep the other monument towering outside the county courthouse.

"One down, many more to go." – Activist Jessica Luther Rummel

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PRO Gainesville activists have gotten plenty of pushback, with some supporters claiming they’ve been retaliated against by local law enforcement. Thompson and PRO-Gainesville founder Torrey Henderson are among those who say they were targeted by Gainesville police.

On Wednesday afternoon, Henderson said she was looking forward to meeting up with fellow activists to cleanse the 113-year-old site with burning sage. The monument's ouster was "right on time" for Juneteenth, an observance celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people, a date that's also now a federal holiday.

“The fact that it’s 2021 and today we’ll no longer have a monument that calls Confederate soldiers ‘our heroes,’ I think that’s a beautiful thing,” Henderson said.

No one had been informed that the Leonard Park statue would be unceremoniously disassembled, Thompson said; to him, it seems as though officials wanted to keep it under wraps. The move draws parallels to the early-morning removal of a Confederate monument outside of the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square last June.

It’s notable that Gainesville's statue was carted off as if part of a “covert operation,” said Denton scholar and activist Jessica Luther Rummel. She’d attended many of PRO Gainesville’s protests, so for Luther Rummel, it was nice to celebrate Wednesday’s “small victory.”

Leonard Park used to be a "whites only" park across the street from a "Blacks only" park, the latter of which was destroyed after segregation ended, Luther Rummel said. Confederate monuments are iconic and carry a racialized message, so it’s also iconic to see them removed.

She hopes fellow anti-racism activists will remain vigilant. She said there’s still much more work to be done, but as the Leonard Park statue proves, it does eventually pay off.

“One down, many more to go — at least one more in Cooke County,” Luther Rummel said. “It’s a day to celebrate, but also be empowered to continue the fight.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter