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Highway marker discussed at council meeting

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Several citizens filled the city council chambers last Tuesday to voice their opinions about a highway marker on Main Street bearing the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The highway marker has come into question over the past month, brought to the council’s and the community’s attention by citizen Randy Krapf. During the Elgin City Council’s previous regular meeting on September 3, Krapf brought information he obtained through research and talking with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to the council during public comment. He said he first noticed the marker while walking to Elgin Memorial Park after it was recently re-exposed by the removal of plants during a TxDOT sidewalk project.

The marker appears to have been erected in 1937 to designate a piece of the Jefferson Davis Highway, a planned roadway stretching from Virginia to California that was sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the early 20th century. The marker is within TxDOT’s right-of-way, but they have given the City of Elgin permission to remove it if they wish, city manager Thomas Mattis said.

A total of nine people signed up to speak and addressed the council regarding the highway marker, with even more attending the meeting. The majority of speakers asked that either the marker be removed, or the historical context of the marker be considered.

One of those who spoke to the city council was Dorothy Norred, the president of the Texas division of the UDC. She said the organization checks on the marker weekly, and they would like for it to remain in place. She added they would be willing to work with the city to come to an “agreeable conclusion” regarding the marker.

“Because this marker is our property, we want to be consulted prior to any action taken to have it moved or removed,” Norred said. “We have had no advance notice that this marker was in peril, and at this time, we do not have the funds in our budget to find another location for this marker.”

A few people spoke out against the marker and requested its removal, such as Bailey Braden. She and her husband moved to Elgin seven years ago and knew about the marker soon after they moved to Elgin.

“We pass by it all the time, and every time we pass by it, we think, ‘that stinks, we don’t really want that there, I can’t believe that’s there,’” Braden said. “We feel happy that other people feel the way we do, it’s upsetting every time we walk by. I hope you consider removing it.”

Richard Miller said he grew up in a “separate but unequal culture,” and the marker is a reminder of this past that he thinks should not be kept. Bryan Lawhorn said the monument does not represent genuine history, but a racist statement made by the UDC of the past, and thinks the marker should be removed and perhaps placed in a museum.

Myrlene Jack said that while the marker serves as a reminder of “bad laws made by politicians,” its removal will not erase the feelings of hate it represents, and she thinks the marker should stay. Debbie Wahrmund said it’s not necessary to leave the marker in its current place to understand its historical context.

Cristin Embree, a local historical archeologist, said she is interested in the history and the context of the marker and requested that the city council open the issue to public discussion, reach out to the Texas Historical Commission and similar organizations and create an advisory committee to take a closer look at the marker.

“Should this be interpreted in place, reinterpreted or removed, I don’t think it’s a decision we should take lightly,” Embree said. “The history is complex, and there are deep scars. Both sides will feel strongly about this.”

After citizens’ comments were over, the council discussed what they had just heard. Mayor Chris Cannon, Mayor Pro-Tem Jessica Bega and council members Sue Brashar and Mary Penson all expressed a wish to hear from more community members before making a decision.

Bega said she was uncomfortable with making a decision that evening, especially considering three council members—Susie Arreaga, Brad Jones and Forest Dennis—were absent.

“I learned something tonight, but I didn’t learn everything I need to learn,” she said, speaking of further engaging and learning from the community in order to make an informed decision.

Penson pointed out that a lot of the people participating in discussions on social media did not speak at that evening’s meeting. She also said the city should work towards “a conclusion everyone can live with.”

The council decided to not take any action during this meeting, but place it on the agenda for further discussion at a future meeting on October 15.

CORRECTION: This article previously identified Debbie Wahrmund as the director of the Elgin Depot Museum; however, during this meeting she was speaking only as a citizen and was not representing the Elgin Depot Museum in her comments. The article has been updated to better reflect this.