After citizens protested at the county courthouse last month and spoke to the commissioners court, asking that the Confederate monuments on the courthouse lawn be removed, the Bastrop County Commissioners Court hosted a three-hour special public hearing on Tuesday, July 7.
The hearing was held at the Jerry Fay Wilhelm Center for the Performing Arts, which was chosen because it could accommodate a large meeting while still maintaining social distancing and other COVID-19 safety precautions.
“This is a historic meeting ,” County Judge Paul Pape said at the beginning of the meeting. “We are here to listen to you.”
The first invited speaker was Dock Jackson. He began by saying he couldn’t believe he must ask for the removal of these monuments as late as 2020. He also related his experiences in growing up in a segregated Bastrop, with segregated schools and businesses that he could not visit.
“The fact that racial injustice and a lack of awareness that insensitive elements exist in Bastrop County is appalling to me,” he said. “These monuments are a constant reminder of the racist, oppressive and abusive historical past in America.”
The next invited speaker was Steve Edmonson, who started a group called Concerned Citizens of Bastrop a few months ago to support law enforcement. He and fellow members attended the protest on June 22 to show support for the monument.
Edmonson said that, while racism is real, the Confederacy is not synonymous with racism. “When you read (the
“When you read (the monument), there’s nothing racist on it; I respect that there was a real problem back then,” he said. “We have a history, and nobody’s history is perfect. … The last three words on the monument are, ‘lest we forget.’”
Next, Ron DeShay gave a presentation on some of the history of the racism found throughout U.S. history. DeShay compared racism in the United States to Nazism, citing a book titled “Hitler’s American Model” by James Q. Whitman that looks at how Nazism took inspiration from American racism. DeShay, and the book he cites, argues that removing the symbols is the only way to stop such ideologies.
“Hitler gleaned from what was done here, praising the U.S. for what he saw as progress for establishing racial dominance,” DeShay said. “With many of the Confederate monuments and statues already built, their presence did nothing to prevent him from carrying out his diabolical acts against other human beings. … If we are to truly learn from history, history tells us that the theory of keeping these items in place as a means to learn is flawed.”
Next, Carl Rees spoke about the monument from his position as a Bastrop veteran. He argued that Confederate soldiers were still Americans fighting for what they believed.
“You might not agree with some of the things they believed in, but they sure did, and they were fighting on American soil for those reasons,” Rees said. “I don’t think there is a living veteran today that has fought in a war on U.S. soil for what they believed in, but Confederate soldiers did, and we owe them respect for that.”
After the first four invited speakers, the floor was opened to the general public. A total of 50 people volunteered to share their thoughts on the hearing item; 36 spoke in favor of removing or relocating the monument, while 14 spoke against removing the monument or asked that the issue be put on the ballot.
Additionally, 120 people submitted written public comments either before or after last week’s special hearing. Before the hearing, 37 written public comments were submitted, while 83 were submitted after the hearing.
After comments from the public, two more invited speakers addressed the attendees.
The first speaker was local pastor Bernie Jackson; she said the monument represents different things to different people, but to many, it represents the history of slavery. “This monument is a
“This monument is a source of great pride for a lot of people, but it is also a source of horrific pain and suffering for another group of people,” she said. She asked the commissioners court to listen to both those who want the monument moved, as well as those who want it to stay in order to look for a better place to put it.
Finally, Cheryl Lee, one of the leaders of the effort to request the removal of the monuments, spoke about the history of the Confederacy and these monuments. She said the Confederacy fought in order to continue slavery, and the monuments are part of a movement after the Civil War to justify the Confederacy.
“We don’t need a monument remind us of the past; black people certainly don’t need a monument as a reminder of the oppression and bloodshed caused by slavery,” she said. “What does it say about our county if it takes a Confederate monument standing on the courthouse lawn in 2020 to remind people that everyone should be treated equally and that slavery, oppression, segregation and lynching should never be repeated?”
At the end of the meeting, Pape thanked the attendees for their participation.
“This is democracy at its very best,” he said.
On Monday morning, the commissioners’ court agenda included a discussion-only item about a proposed resolution regarding the monuments. During the meeting, Pape said he thinks it is time to remove the monuments, and presented a draft resolution to relocate the monuments that the court will consider and vote on at a future meeting. See more about this meeting in next week’s edition of the Elgin Courier, or listen to Pape's remarks below: