BELTON — As people strolled along Central Avenue perusing through the displays set up by local vendors for market day, a group of 14 residents congregated around the 101-year-old Confederate soldier statue on the northwest corner of the Bell County Courthouse grounds.
The greyback effigy has sparked a conversation in Bell County on whether the memorial to Confederate veterans should remain, as this group of residents want, or if it should be relocated, as a group of residents who met with a portion of the Bell County Commissioners Court would like to see.
Temple resident C.J. Grisham, who acted as the group’s spokesman, described the proposed relocation of the Confederate statue as a slap in the face of all veterans.
“This memorial has nothing to do with race. This memorial has nothing to do with slavery,” said Grisham, who waved an American flag. “It has to do with soldiers who fought and served for what they believed was their country and state.”
The Confederate statue was first erected on Dec. 16, 1916, by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as a way to honor the more than 1,000 Bell County men who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
“War is horrible thing. There are always two sides of every war,” said Charles Pruett, who is in the Army and stationed at Fort Hood. “I don’t see any need for it to come down.”
America has an ugly history, Grisham said, one that nobody can doubt.
“We can’t overcome that by hiding it or pretending it didn’t exist,” he said. “We can’t overcome that by removing points of discussion, which what this is, a point of discussion.”
Moving the statue would be a waste of money and effort, Grisham said.
As Grisham, Pruett and the 12 other people assembled at the statue held signs, many motorists traveling north and southbound on Main Street honked, waved, put their thumbs up and, even though it is now illegal in Texas, were recording the demonstration on their smartphones in support of the rally. One motorist drove by, displaying the Confederate rebel flag.
When asked if he would support a plaque detailing the history of the Civil War or even a statue of a former slave being installed, Grisham was supportive of both ideas.
“I don’t have a problem with any of those historical statues being put up,” he said.
Grisham acknowledged that if the statue at the courthouse advocated slavery then he would be in complete opposition to it.
“This is a Confederate soldiers’ memorial,” he said. “Our veterans are being attacked here.”
When the group who wants the statue relocated met with the Commissioners Court Tuesday, they asked Bell County Judge Jon Burrows if it would be possible to hold a public meeting on the issue so more people can voice their opinions. Burrows was receptive to it, telling the five men if a meeting were held it would be in after a month goes by.
“I think that’s a great idea,” Grisham said of the larger public meeting. “It’s always a good thing for people to get involved in government, especially in these types of decisions.”
Belton resident Jim Bounds was walking around downtown Saturday when he noticed the demonstration.
“I was asking these guys what’s going on here? I didn’t know,” Bounds said, pointing to other bystanders.
Bounds, 65, is a lifelong resident of this Central Texas city. His family first arrived in Belton about a decade before the Civil War broke out. Some of his ancestors fought in the war, he said.
Bounds recounted a special memory about the Confederate soldier statue. When he was 12, he climbed the statue and stood next to the unnamed soldier.
“It was funny. We had a blast,” said Bounds, who wants the statue to stay. “Actually, coming off of there, I fell and scraped my knee on the ground so I didn’t want to do that no more.”
Many of the people who are commemorated by the statue, Bounds noted, died 150 years ago. But a lot has changed, he said, pointing east down Central Avenue to the congregation of residents shopping at market day.
“I see people down here shopping together, mixing and mingling together,” Bounds said. “No harm, no foul.”