Denton Confederate Monument's Fate Still in Doubt, Debate

The Confederate memorial in Denton.
The Confederate memorial in Denton. Christian McPhate
The “Denton County Confederate Monument, The Citizens Report – 2017” reads like a declaration our forefathers would have sent to King  George III demanding the repeal of his intolerable acts. Only this declaration is addressed to Denton County Judge Mary Horn, the Denton County Commissioner’s Court, the county's Historical Commission, the Texas Historical Commission, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, the U.S. Secretary of Interior, Denton City Council and Denton Mayor Chris Watts.

The report, put together by an informal group of Denton residents and issued Tuesday, begins as most declarations do, with a claim (and some dubious grammar):

“Documenting the 15 year decline of a State of Texas Architectural Landmark as a result of negligence and oppression via the office of the Denton County Judge Mary Horn and the Denton County Historical Commission.

“This report represents the concerns of Denton citizens who support the preservation and survival of the Confederate Monument which stands on the County Courthouse Square as well as its full, documented history, but who also support a diverse, open, and community approach to resolving the re-occurrent protests against the monuments presence on public property.” 

The language isn't exactly Jeffersonian, but their request is simple: They want the county to appoint a citizen’s monument committee to ensure “the (Confederate) monuments [sic] proper protection and preservation, in coordination with the Texas Historical Commission.”

Jennifer Lane, a professor of voice at the University of North Texas, says the report was put together to raise awareness of the dissembling the group claims Horn has been doing in regard to the Confederate monument.

"The consensus [among the group] is move it indoors and explain its Jim Crow history," Lane says. 

The Daughters of the Confederacy was a women's auxiliary group for the KKK and part of a movement to rewrite history when it erected Confederate statues across the South.

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Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the Jim Crow era, the Confederate monument depicts a clean-shaven soldier with his black-powder rifle next to him as he stares at the LSA Burger Co. restaurant across the street from the Courthouse-on-the-Square lawn. It’s unclear why the statue's considered a memorial, as no names are memorialized like at other veteran monuments. The citizen report claims former Denton City Attorney H.R. Wilson told the Denton Record-Chronicle in 1918: “Soldiers did not fight for what they believed was right, but for what they knew was right.”

Lane points out that the Daughters of the Confederacy was a "women's auxiliary" group for the KKK and part of a movement to rewrite history when it erected Confederate statues across the South, claiming that the soldiers had heroically sacrificed their lives for state's rights and not the enslavement of African Americans, as Texas' 1861 Declaration of Causes indicates:

"Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederate States to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as as commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended of the confederacy." 

The Texas Historical Commission considers the courthouse property a museum. But long-time Confederate monument protester Willie Hudspeth says its version of history in inaccurate. There is nothing heroic about giving one's life to keep a race enslaved, as the plaque next to the statue would lead people to believe.

Hudspeth, who’s in his early 70s and president of the Denton NAACP, says he and other opponents of the statue don’t necessarily want to tear the statue down in the middle of the night, as Dallas city leaders attempted to do with its Robert E. Lee statue. They also don’t want to take three stabs at it to get it right, as Dallas had to do before a crane hoisted the statue away a few weeks ago.

They’re willing to work with Horn, who has been adamantly opposed to the Denton statue's removal.

“My motivation for going there [to protest] for so long has just been it needs to be done,” says Hudspeth who sits inside his junk shop on the corner of Oak and Bonnie Brae streets in Denton, surrounded by Denton history.

Hudspeth’s battle with Horn and the commissioner's court over the Confederate monument began when she was appointed as county judge in June 2002. Hudspeth had been working with another team of residents under the approval of the Denton County Historical Commission to restore the monument and its water fountains. There are two of them located on each side of the soldier’s limestone arch.

“Only white people were allowed to drink from it,” he says. “It supposedly quit working about the time we were allowed to drink from it.”

Despite Hudspeth’s team having architectural and drainage plans completed to reconnect the fountains, as well as water connections identified by the city, the citizen report claims that Horn denied access to a permit that she submitted on his behalf and he obtained from the Texas Historical Commission.

“Judge Horn writes Hudspeth, tells him he cannot move forward with planned restorations on monument and denies him correspondence from [the Texas Historical Commission] that his permit was approved in August 2002,” the group writes. “Horn also misinforms Hudspeth that ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance has prevented the project from moving forward. The county was already advised of two ADA compliant options to proceed on project.”

Those two options included seeking a variance from the governing agency or place an accessible fountain within 250 feet of the fountains on the square, or as Hudspeth points out, just about anywhere on the courthouse lawn would work.

The citizen’s report challenges several of Horns’ claims over the years and provides facts that indicate a selective memory at work. It also lists laws that Horn and other commissioners may have violated, including abuse of office.

At the commissioner's court meeting on Tuesday, Horn told the group and other residents she disagrees with its claims that she lied.

Hudspeth’s next battle with Horn involved a small plaque placed not on the Confederate monument itself but a few feet away. The first version of the plaque was approved by the Texas Historical Commission in the early 2000s. Two more followed with slightly different wording.

Hudspeth doesn’t recall how the first version read, but he does recall the second version because he says commissioners had approved his wording unanimously: “At one time only one race could drink from these fountains. Now let this be a testimony that God created all men equal with certain inalienable rights. We are all citizens of Denton County.”

In March 2010, the wording was changed because Hudspeth says Horn told him that the wording was historically inaccurate, but the suggested new wording would “more accurately reflect the history of the statue.” The question is, according to whom?

The plaque now reads: “The Denton Confederate Soldier memorial was erected in 1918 by the Daughters of the Confederacy. The monument stands as a reminder of historic events and is intended as a memorial to Denton County citizens who sacrificed themselves for the community.”

It also includes some of Hudspeth’s original verbiage without highlighting the segregation that the monument also memorializes with its two water fountains: “Now, let this be a testimony that God created all men equal with certain inalienable rights. We are all one, citizens of Denton County.”

Hudspeth and his group haven’t decided exactly what they want to do with the monument. Lane says it should be brought indoors because the commissioner's court hasn't been protecting it as claimed. Hudspeth says he’d like to erect something similar to the Slavery and Freedom monument at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., but on a smaller scale.

He seems to be more hopeful now that Horn announced Hudspeth would be among the first appointees to a new committee that will form to discuss the Confederate monument on the square. She’s just not sure how many committees they should form or how many residents they plan to appoint, though she does want to create a committee to change the “woefully inadequate” language on the plaque that she approved nearly a decade ago.

Horn told the crowd of people who gave four hours of testimony at the Tuesday morning commissioners' meeting that she’s enlisted the help of Texas history professor Randolph Campbell to serve as an adviser for the committee. “It’s going to take some time,” she told the Denton Record Chronicle. “I understand that, but [historical] accuracy is my goal.”

Lane says their group gave the commissioners three options: allow Hudspeth to form the committee, form their own committee to work with theirs or simply appoint their group as the committee to determine what to do with the monument.

And if Horn doesn't agree to form a committee, Lane says the least she could do is restore the water fountain and "let Willie Hudspeth be the first to drink from it."

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.