In July, the Williamson County Board of Commissioners established a task force to determine whether there is a need to remove the flag, per the requirements of the Tennessee Historical Commission. The move came amid calls and peaceful protests to remove Confederate symbols throughout the county following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black Americans in recent months.
The task force, which is headed up by Williamson Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen, also includes members from the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County and the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County as well as Black community leaders and business owners, Williamson County historian Rick Warwick and members of families who have lived in the county for at least three generations.
The task force met Aug. 11 to hear opposing viewpoints from Dustin Koctar, a Franklin resident whose petition to remove the flag from the seal has garnered thousands of signatures over the past several weeks, and Mike Plumley, a Williamson County resident who has served on a number of Williamson County-area historical groups, including the board for the Battle of Franklin Trust, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
Koctar said he has spent the past several years educating himself on systemic racism in the country while raising his three children, who he adopted from Uganda.
"Since this is my home, I want to ensure that we are a community that is welcoming and hospitable to everyone through the words that we say, the values that we hold and the images that we promote," Koctar said. We did not have the lived experience to prepare us to raise Black children in a country where they would be treated differently because of the color of their skin. We had never been on the receiving end of racism; we had never been perceived as a threat or suspicious because of our skin color; we've never had to be twice as good while still being treated as less-than. Until I became an advocate to change the seal, we had never been told to go back where we came from. To that point, my wife is a descendant of a pioneer family in Williamson County, so here we are."
Koctar also argued the county should be allowed to remove the seal from the flag without approval from the THC, as the seal is not a historic memorial. He said the flag and other Confederate symbols have already been removed from Franklin Police Department shields as well as from patches on Brentwood Police Department uniforms.
"As we fight against racism, bigotry and hatred, we realize that adding or changing symbols is not going to magically make those issues disappear. While we work to change hearts and minds to create a better community, on Earth as it is in Heaven, we must also address the symbols that empower the views we are challenging," he said. "The more I learn about the Confederacy, the more I realize how inappropriate it is to have that flag as an official representation of the residents of Williamson County and our county government. Changing the seal may not be a popular idea, but neither was abolition."
Offering his viewpoint as to why the seal should remain unchanged, Plumley said it portrays the county's history.
"The Civil War was a very ugly and horrific part of that history," Plumley said. "But regardless of this ugliness, a significant battle was fought here with over 10,000 casualties. The cannon and flag on the seal represent that period of history in Franklin. One might not like that history, but it is our history."
The Confederate flag is also still flown at two historic sites in the county: the Carter House and the Carnton-McGavock cemetery, Plumley said.
"My personal feelings and that of many are that the cannon and flag should remain as reminders of our past of the struggles and the blood that was shed here," he said, "We may not like the cause, but the boys in Tennessee went off to the military when their country called, just as I did when drafted over 50 years ago. Most of these volunteer Confederate farm boys answered that same call and fought side-by-side and died within moments of each other on Nov. 30, 1864. These were boys, fathers, sons, uncles, cousins, preachers, teachers, friends and neighbors. They, like myself, answered the call when they wen off to serve their country."
Plumley said should the task force ultimately decide to recommend removing the seal, they ought to add symbol to commemorate the Battle of Franklin in its place; it was a turning point in Civil War history, he said, and war-related tourism contributes to the county's economy.
"We realized the winds of change are swirling all around us," Plumley said. "If it is deemed the seal must change, then may I respectfully request you will commemorate the Battle of Franklin in some way? In closing, it is my belief and that of many, we should leave the seal as is: representing and reminding us of this part of our history."
A recommendation from the task force is expected to be made to the county in September. Largen said the task force has received about 800 responses so far from residents related to the seal. Residents can continue to add comments until Aug. 14 at Williamson Inc.'s website here.