Statue reminds residents of post-Civil War years

Statue reminds residents of post-Civil War years

Statue reminds residents of post-Civil War years
February 25
23:51 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

On the south side of the Denton County Courthouse on the Square sits a statue of a Confederate soldier.

With a hat on his head and a gun in his hands, the soldier resembles every other man who fought in the Civil War, memorialized through monuments placed in almost all Texas counties that existed before the late 1800s.

Unlike other landmarks, the Texas Confederate statue has become a symbol of the times that pitted white Americans against their black counterparts. Two segregated water fountains stand below the arch that reads “Our Confederate Soldiers,” a dedication engraved by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

As a community that houses one of the most racially diverse universities in the nation, Denton’s NAACP chapter and two UNT students have launched petitions toward the statue’s removal. However, city officials maintain that tearing down the statue would mean destroying an important historic landmark.

“We don’t celebrate the Confederacy; we tell the story,” said Peggy Riddle, director at the Denton County Office of History and Culture. “It’s a monument that was placed at a time in our history to honor the Confederate soldiers.”

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The fountains no longer function and some of the council workers in the courthouse believe they were never functioning due to plumbing.

Erecting a historical landmark

In 1909, the Katie Daffan Chapter of the UDC held an open meeting where one of the attendees suggested the Daughters build a monument of a Confederate soldier on the courthouse lawn.

Four years later, the Daughters started a fundraiser in order to collect proceeds toward the erection of the statue. They sold plates with the UDC seal and eventually received enough funding, which allowed them to purchase the monument that arrived in the city in 1918.

Despite the addition of the water fountains, no plumbing was done on the site and the fixtures were never attached to any water pipes below the ground.

“I think they had hoped they would connect the water, but they never did,” said Kim Cupit, curator of collections at the Denton County Office of History and Culture. “I think it was an expense that they thought the city would cover, and they didn’t.”

Although Cupit said a few have appealed to tear it down due to its lack of function, the 12-foot gray marble statue is protected and registered by the Texas Historical Commission as an archaeological site and historical landmark due to a grant toward the restoration of the courthouse.

“We like to see the preservation of the significant aspects of things while recognizing the sensitive nature of topics, including some of the Confederate representations of things,” said Chris Florance, director of the public information and education division at the Texas Historical Commission. “We want to work with the community because the courthouse continues to be an important part of Denton.”

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A Confederate solider stands atop the statue that’s situated on the south side of the courthouse lawn. The statue has received negative attention from two students who’ve petitioned to have it removed.

Protecting a city attraction

 The Civil War’s effects only  brushed Denton County, which was sparsely populated at the time with only a fraction of its residents participating in the war, Cupit said. The impact spilled into the economy, and those who were left behind became responsible for maintaining the operations of the community.

Following the collapse of the Confederacy, the UDC volunteered to erect monuments across southern counties to commemorate fallen soldiers. Riddle said the Texas Confederate statue on the Square was built exactly for that purpose.

“You have to look at things in a broader context, not just that the soldier is here to remind people of segregation,” Riddle said. “It also reminds people about their relatives who fought in the Civil War.”

While a civil rights group is the main petitioner to have the statue removed, university students have also come to the city requesting changes be made to a monument that has stood at the heart of downtown Denton for nearly a century.

“With a student population that changes every four years or more, why should the community get rid of something just because a student doesn’t like it?” Riddle said. “The people who live here and are going to stay here are the ones who should have a voice.”

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Illustration by Jake Bowerman – Senior Staff Illustrator

Petitioning against segregation

 One petitioner to have the statue removed is Willie Hudspeth, president of the Denton County branch of the NAACP. He said he compares the situation to a gallows where black Americans used to be executed and wants the statue to be either moved to a museum or taken down.

“Things like that make a person feel or think a certain way, and this one is no exception,” Hudspeth said. “But what it makes me think of [are] the negative parts of the history that I remember and how my race was treated.”

Hudspeth said he created the petition in the early 1990s, presenting it to the county commissioners and getting permission from the Texas Historical Commission to remove the statue. Even though the fountains were never linked to any city water lines, and are thus unable to produce water, Hudspeth said he had seen people drinking from the fountains.

“I told them to turn the water on so everybody can drink from it and change the statue wording that’s underneath it,” Hudspeth said. “What I wanted it changed to was: Let everybody drink from the fountain, and never let this happen again.”

Despite constant rejection and failure to get the county to vote on – let alone discuss – the petition, Hudspeth said he is still pushing forward with the help of UNT student Aron Duhon and a handful of NAACP members.

“We haven’t given up,” Hudspeth said. “I’ve got to get the numbers on my side – people who see the issue as I see it – and then we will go present the case at the commissioner’s court.”

Because the statue is protected under the Texas Penal Code, the city and county are not authorized to alter or remove it without the approval of the Texas Historical Commission. Denton County Judge Mary Horn said the commissioner’s court tried to address Hudspeth’s concerns by contacting the Texas Historical Commission, but they opposed the idea.

“They strongly recommended against restoring the fountains because in order to do it, you’d have to dismantle the monument to install the plumbing, and it’s pretty fragile,” Horn said.

Horn suspects that the city never installed the water pipes to the statue because it was made of limestone, which can easily dissolve in contact with water.

“Even if they got the water going, they thought that the water would deteriorate the limestone,” Horn said. “That’s probably why it was never hooked up to it. It would destroy the monument.”

Featured Image: A statue erected after the Civil War commemorating the soldiers who fought for the South. Photos by Hannah Ridings – Staff Photograph

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