September 18, 2022


Confederate monument under fire

news photo

The Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument stands in front of the Williamson County Courthouse. Sun archive photo

 

Lawsuit brought against county regarding statue on courthouse grounds

By KATE THURMOND

It’s been more than two years since Williamson County Commissioners passed a motion to form a committee tasked with providing information and options to the court about the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument standing in front of the county courthouse. 

Now, a federal lawsuit has come to a head surrounding the county’s actions — or alleged inactions — regarding the monument and committee since the motion was made.  

The lawsuit was filed by Georgetown resident Jason Norwood, a member of the Wilco Patriots, a local group “fighting racism in Williamson County,” and “working to remove the Confederate monument from the Williamson County courthouse.”

The 21-foot statue was put in place by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1916, after the group raised funds to memorialize local people who had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

“We know why the Confederacy stood,” Mr. Norwood said. “This moral relativism is the same thing that is being used to propagate the idea that says ‘these guys are just fighting to save their farms.’ They all know slavery was their cause.” 

Lawsuit details 

Mr. Norwood told the Sun he is pursuing legal action against Williamson County commissioners and other elected officials because of inaction regarding the statue since the motion to form a committee was passed in August 2020. 

The approved motion to form “a committee to research, review and provide comments… regarding requests to maintain the current location and requests to relocate” the monument was sponsored by Commissioner Russ Boles and appeared on the August 11, 2020, commissioner’s agenda.

Mr. Norwood said that it was around this time that he decided to explore a lawsuit. 

“I started right after they said they were going to make a committee,” he said, adding that he felt forming a committee was a way for commissioners to postpone addressing the issue. “Boles told me the political system is a long process and I replied with the quote ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ 

“It became apparent to me that I have to do the bending.” 

Mr. Norwood said he tailored his lawsuit after two successful lawsuits in Maryland and North Carolina regarding monuments that memorialized aspects of the Confederacy. 

The suit utilizes the 14th amendment, which Mr. Norwood said “prohibits holding public office if you are providing comfort to an enemy of the United States.” He said that the county uses tax dollars to maintain and protect the statue, including power washing it and the camera system put in place to surveil the area where the statue resides. 

“By beautifying that statue, they are providing comfort to that enemy: the Confederacy,” he said.  

He said that members of the Wilco Patriots group have observed the statue being power washed at least every six months and had priced security cameras at $3,000 each, which does not include possible media storage costs. 

“They are paying money to maintain that statute,” he said. 

The lawsuit names 12 entities and individuals, including the county commissioners, the Williamson County Historical Commission, and the Williamson County Grays. The Gray’s mission is “to honor our Confederate forefathers who served in the War for Southern Independence,” according to the group’s Facebook page. 

As of September 13, seven had been served papers. 

The lawsuit asks for the removal of the statue or $1 million to cover the damages created by its continued presence on the Square, Mr. Norwood said. 

“If you want to keep up this praise to degradation of humans, I will have to create a program to educate children on its history,” he said. “I don’t want a dime [for myself]. We have to do the work to accept those who’ve been excluded.”  

The lawsuit is currently in the Federal Western District Court of Texas and will be heard in that venue by a judge. 

Committee history

The idea of forming a committee to research and evaluate options for the statue was sponsored by Commissioner Boles and appeared on the August 11, 2020, commissioner’s agenda.

“The statue has become an issue,” Mr. Boles said at the meeting. “I receive emails from both sides. Some arguments are good, some are not. And to wade through it is a lot, to be honest with you. 

“My intent is not to discuss if the statue is appropriate. The statue is appropriate. It’s part of our history. That’s not changed. What I’d like for the committee to look at is if the historic courthouse is the appropriate location.

“In 1916, we knew what the citizens of Williamson County wanted,” Mr Boles continued. “But it’s 2020, it’s 104 years later and I think it’s fair to ask that question again.”

Mr. Boles proposed forming a 15-member committee, with each commissioner appointing three members. He said that Holly Coe would chair the committee and that he would lead the effort to have it formed.

“I’m not interested in large public hearings,” he said. “I’m interested in 15 people looking at a cross section of the county to get information to help the court. 

“Obviously, I want a spot for public input so the committee can hear what the public would like to say to them, but a large public hearing is not my goal. And to litigate the value of the statue is not my goal.”

Commissioners approved the motion 4-1, with Judge Bill Gravell voting against the action. Mr. Boles said that the committee would be formed some time after the court finalized the 2021 fiscal year’s budget. The budget was approved later that month.  

Mr. Boles next brought up the committee during the court’s December 8, 2020, meeting. He stated that he was postponing appointing members to the committee, but that he planned to return to the topic in January 2021.

“I had previously brought to the court the idea of a committee to discuss the Confederate statue on the historic courthouse grounds,” he said December 8. “I mentioned December as a date that we talked about, but I know that the court’s calendar has been full. I still intend to bring that forward in January.”

The committee officially appeared on an agenda again on March 23, 2021. 

“This is something that has been on my mind,” he said. “I mentioned it last year [in 2020]. A lot has happened between now and then. 

“I know the court has been busy and we continue to be busy. I do think [the statue committee] is something that we need to discuss sometime in the next 30-40 days. It is my intention to put it back on the agenda.”

At that time, the county was working to expand its Covid-19 vaccine offerings and was about a month removed from responding to Winter Storm Uri. He said as vaccination efforts “turned a corner,” he believed it would give commissioners more time to discuss the statue. 

“As we process some of this more immediate business, we just need a little more time,” he said. “We all have very full schedules.”

Mr. Boles reiterated his intentions that the committee would provide information about the statue. 

“I need more information concerning that statue. I look at the statue and it’s generally towards the Confederacy, it’s generally towards the military of the Confederacy,  and I’m asking myself more questions. How did it get there? What is its purpose? Upon getting that information, maybe there is an action the court would want to take.”

He also revised the proposed size of the committee from 15 members down to 10. 

“I’m looking for people who are interested,” he said. “There’s really nobody who is neutral on this, but we do our best to get some good, neutral information.

“I’m not looking for a referendum by the committee. I’m not looking for a vote by the committee. I don’t know if I’m looking for the committee to actually meet as a committee. I’m looking for them to provide information to the court and for us to digest that.” 

Possible actions regarding the committee have not appeared on any meeting agendas since that March 2021 meeting. 

The Sun reached out to Mr. Boles for an update in June 2021.

“A committee to provide information concerning the confederate statue has not been formed, but it is still on my agenda,” Mr. Boles told the Sun at that time. “I want the commissioners court to have time to properly select and appoint the appropriate people, and currently, we are involved in other equally high priority projects, such as the next fiscal budget.”

On January 4 of this year, Mr. Boles told the Sun that he was still “evaluating the timing and viability” of creating a committee to study the statue.

This week, Mr. Boles told the Sun that, due to the pending litigation, he would not comment on the lawsuit or the committee for the statue.