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Staying In Your Lane – The Fight Over The Kaufman Confederate Statue

Staying In Your Lane – The Fight Over The Kaufman Confederate Statue

Part four of the history of racial violence in Kaufman County, TX.

Part One – Staying In Your Lane – 180 Years of Racial Violence In Kaufman County
Part Two – Staying In Your Lane – Say Their Names, Kaufman County
Part Three – Staying In Your Lane – The Rise Of Kaufman County Ku Klux Klan

“Staying In Your Lane,” is a series on racial violence in Kaufman County and how the culture of white supremacy thrived in Kaufman County for decades and is fighting to stay relevant today. Part four picks up in the 1950s when the first fight over the Kaufman Confederate statue began.

The new courthouse.

In April 1954, the citizens of Kaufman County voted two to one to build a new courthouse.

Towards the end of January, the Confederate statue in front of the old courthouse was dismounted “for its protection,” and was to be stored, cleaned, and polished before it was put in front of the new courthouse.

Construction began on January 31, 1955, and by February 10, the demolition of the old courthouse was on its way.

What was particularly interesting about the February 3, 1955 issue of the Kaufman Herald was that the front page contained three highlights. It marked the beginning of the new courthouse construction, it pictured a bunch of old guys from a Confederate reunion, and pictured the Confederate statue, calling it “standing guard.”

Kaufman Herald – February 3, 1955
Kaufman Herald – February 3, 1955

This is what the old courthouse looked like, before it was torn down.

(If you were wondering)

It took 17 months to complete construction and by June 1956, county officials were moving their offices into the new courthouse.

What was life like for Black Kaufmanites during the time the new courthouse was being built?

The Brown v. Board of Education decision was passed in May 1954. During this period of time, segregation was at the top of everyone’s mind, not just in Kaufman, but all over the south. By 1955, some Texas towns were integrating schools or talking about integrating schools. However, Kaufman County was reserved not to partake in integration.

In this April 26, 1956 issue of the Kaufman Herald, they said, “the Negro has many legal rights but he must use them wisely and with prudence. If he gains everything legally…and loses the respect and friendship of his white fellow-Americans, he is far pooper than when he started.

Stay in your lane.

A threat placed in the local newspaper almost 70 years ago still echoes in Kaufman County today. That Kaufman Herald article was telling the Black population in Kaufman County that if they pushed for integration, even though it was their legal right, that they would lose the respect of white people.

What about Kaufman’s white children? How did they feel?

In April 1956, segregated all-white Kaufman High School held a Junior-Senior banquet. The theme of the banquet was “Southern Plantation.”

Yeah, it was as bad as it sounds. The PTA served fried chicken to students as the students, who dressed in colonial garb and romanticized the Antebellum south.

According to the Kaufman Herald, the highlight of the evening is when these white teenagers used black-face to imitate slaves and sing two songs. Those songs were “Dixie,” and “Working on the railroad.”

The Kaufman Herald also photographed these teens and the caption for the photo was “In the land of cotton.”

The teenager who participated in the display of black-face were Gloria Cates, Ruth Ann Averitt, Larry Howard, and Mike Boswell.

If these teenagers, who once thought that Black people were no more than props were still alive today, they would be roughly about 80 years old.

It makes you wonder if any of them or their descendants were fighting to keep the Confederate statue in 2020.

An interesting note about Mike Boswell.

His father, Jake Boswell was a prominent member of the community in the 1950s and 60s. Jake Boswell’s family-owned Boswell Cotton Company in Kaufman was also on the school board during the time Kaufman was fighting integration.

If you remember, from part three, in Kaufman the Black school’s schedule revolved around the cotton industry, and school was shut down during harvesting season.

What was life like in Kaufman County back then?

Black children weren’t given a good or round education because they had to work in the cotton fields, one of them owned by the Boswell family.

While this was happening, one of the cotton company’s owners, Jake Boswell, worked on the school board stopping schools from integration as his son dressed up in black-face as a prop in a school performance.

What happened with the Confederate statue?

It was placed in front of the new courthouse in April 1956. End of story, right?

Wrong.

When the monument was placed in front of the new courthouse, it was three feet shorter. Apparently, it was put on a lowered pedestal. The inscriptions weren’t damaged and it was done to fit in better with the architecture of the new building.

Local Confederates weren’t having it though. The Kaufman County Historical Society, especially, protested the shortening of the statue.

We recently learned that Parker County Historical Commission had been infiltrated by Neo-Confederates and was attempting to hide records of lynchings from Weatherford residents.

Was the Kaufman County Historical Society in the 1950s the same body as what is currently known as the Kaufman County Historical Commission?

The job of a county’s historical commission is to preserve history. A Neo-Confederate can’t serve on a historical commission while simultaneously believing in revisionist history.

Preserving history and using the Lost Cause to erase history directly conflict with each other. But if Neo-Confederates infiltrated Kaufman County Historical Commission, it would likely be too late. More than likely, the damage would have already been done.

Let’s see what they’re up to.

What the hell is this?

This was the very first post on the Kaufman County Historical Commission’s page. Apparently, they held a “Vintage Market Day,” at Kaufman County’s Poor Farm.

If you remember from part two of this series, Kaufman County’s Poor Farm was established to exploit free Black labor and from the late 1800s through the early 1900s, that’s what Kaufman County did, exploited Black people for labor at the Poor Farm.

Surely, the Kaufman County Historical Commission would have known this.

Even more appalling, white people showed up to this “Vintage Market Day,” LARPing as 1800s sheriffs or plantation owners…or cowboys?? It’s hard to say what look they were going for here, but they were LARPing as 1800s white southerners at the place where Black people were exploited for free labor.

Just as the teenagers dressed up as oppressed Black people at that 1950s high school banquet, at this 2019 event, they did the same.

Identities are hidden because the family more than likely didn’t know about the Poor Farm’s history. But the Kaufman County Historical Commission knew. Knows.

Somehow, they thought it was a good idea to gather groups of LARPing white people and have a fun day at a place where white people used to exploit Black people for free labor.

Back to the Kaufman County Historical Society (of the 1950s).

In 1956 Kaufman County Historical Society held a hearing at the Kaufman County Commissioner’s Court.

Just as the Neo-Confederates were passionate about the statue in 2020, in 1956 they were just as passionate. However, back in 1956, they weren’t referring to the statue as a “cenotaph.” That’s a new thing they started doing in recent years. (It’s not a cenotaph. It’s a broken piece of rock.)

There was no mention in the old news clippings regarding how the statue’s hand broke.

The members of the historical society wanted the statue to be restored to its original height. Some even wanted the statue moved to the northeast side of the building.

The pro-Confederates in town gathered a petition and the money needed to restore it and took it to the Commissioner’s Court.

There was no answer that day. So, Mrs. A. E. Newell took out an ad in the paper.

It was an attempt to appeal to the citizens of Kaufman.

It didn’t work. Ultimately, the Kaufman County Commissioner’s Court voted to leave the statue as it was. As far as I can tell, the pro-Confederates dropped the issue after that.

That should be a hint for the anti-racists in Kaufman County. Keep going. Keep fighting. Even if racism is deeply engrained in Kaufman’s culture, continue to work at changing minds.

There’s more of Kaufman County’s story, yet to come.

(Although, I’ve been terrible at keeping to a schedule.) This story still has two more parts.

What happened after the new courthouse was built? What happened after segregation ended? Racial violence in Kaufman County continued on after the civil rights movement and well into modern times.

Stay tuned. Join our email list for updates.

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