Another Confederate statue, another town, another fight.
Last month, I heard through our friends at the Texas Reconstruction Project that the group in Amarillo, who was fighting for the removal of their Confederate statue, was planning an occupy demonstration. The leaders of De Confederate Amarillo were intending on occupying the space where the Confederate statue stood until it was removed.
I spoke with the organizer for De Confederate Amarillo, Rusty Tomlinson, on what was to be the day before the occupy demonstration started. To both of our surprise, just the day before, Amarillo City Council had voted to have their statue sent to neighboring Claude, in Armstrong County.
Here is where the story took a turn. The plan being discussed was, Armstrong County was intending on erecting the statue on their own courthouse lawn.
Hasn’t the point of the removal of these statues been to get them off of public space?
Indeed it has. This is why I initially found it confusing that any municipal government would want to erect such a statue on their courthouse lawn in 2020.
The fight in Amarillo over the statue has been going on for around a decade and there is an amazing and dedicated group out there who has been working relentlessly to have it removed. Since the murder of George Floyd, the interest in the statue has peaked. Unfortunately, that interest didn’t simply include activists protesting the statue, it also included local Neo-Confederates and graffiti artists who needed a new canvas.
In turn, what happened in Amarillo this year, aside from protests for the statue removal, has been a battle between the Neo-Confederates and the vandals.
Vandals would graffiti the statue, then the Neo-Confederates would come out and clean it up. The statue would get defaced again, the Neo-Confederates would come and clean it. It was becoming an endless dramatic cycle in the community and a headache for the Amarillo City Council. They just wanted it gone and they didn’t care where it went.
During the De-Confederate movement in 2020, we learned why it’s important for these statues not to be in public spaces.
Texas’ historical documents of secession layout very plainly that the reason for secession was slavery. Nothing in the original documents even mention taxes, states’ rights, or northern aggression. The people of the Confederate committed treason and launched a war against the United States of America in order to keep the institution of slavery intact.
Around 50 years after the south lost the Civil War and the Confederacy was abolished the hate group, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, erected these odes to white supremacy all over the south. They did this during the height of the Jim Crow era. They did this when Black men were still fighting for the right to vote. And they did this intentionally to remind Black American citizens of what “their place” was.
Do we have to go over again who the UDC were/are?
Living Blue in Texas has written extensively about who the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). They’ve had a long history with both the Ku Klux Klan and their ‘brother’ organization, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, (also a hate group). In modern times you can find the UDC online making racial comments about Black people and they even showed up in Gainesville this year to call biracial people ethnic slurs at a town hall.
It was in fact the UDC who placed that statue in Amarillo over 100 years ago.
When the statue was placed, it was placed on public space which was funded and maintained by Amarillo taxpayers. Black Amarillo residents were never polled or asked about their feelings regarding this tax-payer maintained statue. As time went on, Black residents of Amarillo continued to pay taxes and their taxes went to a monument which symbolized the hatred, enslavement, trafficking, and genocide of their ancestors.
As our society has evolved, we all now know that racism is wrong, hate is wrong, and slavery was wrong. These monuments, these odes to white supremacy, have no place in public spaces, especially not courthouses.
Having a Confederate monument on the lawn of your courthouse is like having a large neon sign that says, “we don’t think Black people should be treated fairly and equally.” In 2020, that is no longer ok.
Why would Armstrong County want the statue on its courthouse lawn?
Armstrong county has a population of less than 2,000 (the entire county). Living in an area that has a population of over 6 million for my entire life, I have only been able to draw pictures in my head of what life might be like for the residents out there. Quiet, serene, perhaps a town where everyone knows what the other person ate for breakfast.
As I’ve learned this year, especially out in East Texas, small rural communities can also be a place where hate groups thrive.
However, in Armstrong county, I was relived to learn that this wasn’t the case.
Unlike bigger cities, like Dallas or Houston, with the county being so small, the commissioner meetings are not broadcasted online, so there was no way to know what happened in those meetings, which brought the statue there. I called the county judge, Hugh Reed. He was out of the office, so I called the Precinct #1 county commissioner, Adam Ensey.
Armstrong had not actually voted to put the statue on the courthouse lawn, yet.
It had only been voted on to bring the discussion to the table. Ensey was the only one that had voted against even discussing it. The other commissioners and judge voting for making it an agenda item at their next meeting, (November 9).
Ensey told me that the reason that this came about was an attorney from Amarillo, whose name he couldn’t remember at the time, had got that ball rolling. Turns out, that attorney was Mike Moore, who is a Confederate reenactor and active member of the Neo-Confederate group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Mike Moore is an attorney also known to De Confederate Amarillo, as he has been behind much of the legal opposition there.
Ensey told me that the biggest reason he was against it was because of the public sentiment and he believed that large in part Armstrong county residents did not want the statue out there.
As I hung up the phone with Commissioner Ensey, Judge Reed was beeping in on my other line.
After speaking with Judge Reed, it’s easy to understand why he was elected and held his office for so long.
Judge Reed and I spent nearly an hour on the phone, as it turns out we had a mutual love of history, especially Texas history. It was an enjoyable conversation and Judge Reed as it turned out was very open-minded and empathetic.
The worries I had about the county commissioners court in Armstrong have come from what we have all witnessed in Cooke, Parker, and Kaufman Counties. Those counties have commissioners or other high-level county officials who are deeply involved with the Neo-Confederate movement or local white militias. This is not the case in Armstrong County.
Judge Reed, initially considered bringing the statue there as a historical artifact but hadn’t yet made up his mind about the placement of the statue on the lawn.
In the panhandle, far away from North Texas, Judge Reed hadn’t heard about all of the incidents surrounding the statues in other counties. He hadn’t heard about the peaceful protesters who were accosted, threatened, and assaulted over the Confederate statues in places like Gainesville and Weatherford.
While he did ask me what I thought about it, I didn’t feel as if it was my place, hundreds of miles away, to offer my opinion. However, I did share with him what I knew and have seen this year in small towns in Texas, with out-of-towners coming in, and acting aggressive and violent towards local residents.
Although Living Blue in Texas has written about the statues and the incidents surrounding them, I didn’t include any of those blogs when I sent Judge Reed information about the UDC, the statues, and the incidents surrounding them this year.
The reason I sent him over non-bias sources as opposed to articles from Living Blue, is I didn’t want the information to appear to have a liberal slant. 😉
Then it became just a matter of what will the county commissioner court vote on during their November 9 meeting.
Last night, we got an update from Rusty Tomlinson.
Here is what Rusty:
“For those of you unacquainted with the story of Amarillo’s Confederate statue, we have been struggling with the Amarillo City Council to get it removed. With the murder of George Floyd and the renewed rise of the BLM movement, the statue has been the target of graffiti artists, and Confederate reenactor and Amarillo attorney, Michael Moore has convinced the city council that it has to be removed for its own protection. The city was in negotiations with. Armstrong County, to place the statue on the county courthouse in Claude, a town 30 miles SE of here. Thanks to a call made by Michelle, we learned that the decision would be made at the Armstrong County Commissioners’ meeting at 9 AM on November 9, so the other Rusty and I drove to Claude to address the county commission.
County Judge Hugh Reed arrived at the courthouse at around 8:30 and Michelle was accurate, when she described him as friendly and informative. A tall, slim and erect man in his seventies, he wore a big iron on his hip, (a holstered automatic pistol of undetermined bore) the entire time he was in the courthouse. He said he didn’t want the statue in Claude for reasons other than ours, he didn’t want the controversy which would accompany it. He actually said to me that slavery was such an evil thing, that anyone who believed that was what the Confederacy was about could never support it. When I mentioned his conversation Michelle, he said, “Ah! Texas Blue! I was hoping she’d come for today’s meeting.”
(He did invite me out there. I wish I could have gone, but Amarillo is a far drive from Dallas).
“The County Commission Chamber dwarfs Amarillo’s City Council Chamber. The first speaker was Michael Moore, whom I have sparred with through the years at the Amarillo City Council. He spoke of the history of the statue, how it was erected in 1925, how nobody knew the artist, how it weighs 18 tons, stands over 15 feet tall, and how graffiti artists were forcing him to seek a new home for it, how Armstrong County residents had collected money for cement to be used in the erection.
“The first resident to speak said he was a member of the American Legion and that although he wanted the statue at the courthouse, the American Legion wanted it at the Rhone War Memorial Park, a Claude park named after a private killed in some war. Then a remarkable speaker said that some number of generations ago, a grandfather of his was working in his field, when he was conscripted by passing Confederates and forced to fight in a war which killed hundreds of thousands and tore the country apart. The mayor called the statue, “an ill wind which blows no good”, then the floodgates opened, with resident after resident speaking of out of towners, graffiti, expense, broken windows and disruption in their town. The consensus was clear, the people wanted nothing to do with a statue which might destroy their peace and quiet.
“The commission voted 5-0 to not place the statue at the courthouse. I asked the judge where the statue would be placed and he said the commission has no authority over that. My understanding is that three possibilities are having it placed in storage, like I asked, erecting it at Rhône War Memorial Park and leaving it where it is, in which case, we might have to pitch Camp Good Trouble next spring.“
This is a win.
Although the outcome of this particular statue is unknown, it will not be going to the Armstrong County Courthouse lawn.
We’ll keep y’all updated about the Amarillo statue as this fight isn’t over. Until then, if you live in a town or county which still has a Confederate monument or memorial and you are looking for assistance in organizing a removal effort, contact the Texas Reconstruction Project.
Keep on getting in good trouble. ❤️
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