Ret. Col. Shelby K. Little stood adorned with the full attire of a Texas Confederate Cavalryman as “The Yellow Rose of Texas” played Tuesday afternoon on a boom box hidden behind the Confederate Civil War statue in front of the Williamson County Courthouse.
“This is not a monument to the Confederacy. This is a monument to the soldiers in our families who died,” Little said. “It’s worth remembering the tragedies of losing family just as it is worth remembering that slavery happened so it doesn’t happen again.”
Little, of Georgetown, is a representative of the Williamson County Grays—a chapter of the national organization Sons of Confederate Veterans. The group’s website states its members are direct descendants of the United Confederate Veterans and the organization seeks to honor those who “served in the War for Southern Independence.”
Each day through the end of April, the Williamson County Grays will post outside of the county courthouse to meet with area residents interested in learning more about Confederate history. April marks Confederate History and Heritage Month by state resolution.
“We’re not out to fly a confederate flag in anyone’s face. But we fly it to honor the memories of those we lost,” Little said. “More than 800 confederate vets are buried in Williamson County even though Williamson County was one of a handful of Texas counties that voted against succession.”
History of controversy
The Confederate statue on the Square amassed significant media attention in 2015 when the San Gabriel Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Georgetown started circulating a petition asking the county commissioners to move the monument to another place in Georgetown, such as the International Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery or the Williamson Museum.
“The quasi-Christian yanks determined they’d take this monument down, and all the media was saying how terrible and evil it was,” Little said. “I met with the opposition. It was clear they were from other demographics. They just did their protest on a whim and jumped on the bandwagon.”
The petition was started in response to the Charleston Church Shooting in which gunman Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, killed nine churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The shooting led to movements across the country calling for barring the Confederate Flag and monuments from public property.
Georgetown’s 21-foot monument includes a Confederate soldier statue and engravings of Confederate States of America flags and logos.
Little said the Williamson County Grays have already seen protesters gather to oppose their presence on the Square.
“But history is history, good and bad things happened. Their opposition just rips off the Band-Aid for old wounds that will probably never heal,” he said. “You can’t disparage people’s families that fought in the conflict because it’s personal. Our family members died in this war.”
On April 30, the Williamson County Grays will hold an event commemorating the 113 Confederate veterans buried at Odd Fellows Cemetery in Georgetown.
Launching a counter-demonstration
Susan Wukasch, chair of Courageous Conversations’ Cultural and Historical Advocacy Committee, said she’s learned a significant amount about confederate history over the last couple years.
“There’s an ideology known as the Lost Cause Mythology that helped people recover from the horrors of the Civil War,” she said. “We have no desire to cause problems with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They can do whatever they want but when they try to- teach a false narrative we do take exception to that.”
The ideology concludes that the Civil War was not fought over slavery but to preserve state’s rights.
“I had ancestors that fought for the confederacy,” Wukasch said. “But I don’t see my opposition to implied racism, which is what that statue is about, I don’t see that as insulting to my ancestors.”
Wukasch said the funds raised for erecting the statue were collected during a movement for Civil War nostalgia about 50 years after the war ended. Local governments across the south, fueled by backlash to the progress black Americans made since the war, raised statues "subtly returning white supremacy," she said.
“These statues were the opening battle hymn for the era of Jim Crow laws. It’s an affront to people of color,” she said. “These statues say ‘You might not be a slave anymore, but we’re still in charge.’ These domineering figures of white men keep guard of county courthouses make sure black folks don’t get in.”
Last year, Courageous Conversations sought permission from the Williamson County Commissioners Court to apply to the Texas Historical Commission for a new plaque providing contextual history about the monument. The request to apply was denied. The group will return to face the commissioners in November to ask for another chance to apply for the new signage.
“At first, we wanted to move the statue. We don’t want that anymore,” she said. “We want that left as a true historical marker of a time and place: 1917, when it was put up to reestablish the white power structure.”
Courageous Conversations has also been developing educational opportunities, including an inaugural annual symposium about the destruction of slavery to tentatively be held at Southwestern University later this year.
Until then, Wukasch said Courageous Conversations will continue to increase its presence on the Square “to point out to residents that flagrantly honoring confederate soldiers hurts the descendants of the black people they enslaved, raped and murdered.”
“Until the end of Red Poppy Festival, we too will hand out copies pamphlets on the Square,” she said. “We will hand out copies of statements from Civil War-era historical documents that clearly show we went to war to maintain slavery in Texas. We just want to put the truth out there.”