Readers urge Bell commissioners to remove Confederate statue
To the Editor:
We are descendants of men who fought for the Confederacy. Both of us had ancestors who took up arms against their brothers for the right to continue to enslave the African people.
It is a heritage that we mourn and a legacy that requires us to stand up for what is right in this moment in time. Our country in 2020 is reeling from hundreds of years of racial injustice, police brutality, and economic disparity that is so immense that hundreds of thousands of Americans are taking to the streets in the middle of a pandemic to say enough is enough.
The Confederate statue in Belton was erected in 1915, a pivotal year for Bell County. A Temple businessman, Jim Ferguson, had been elected governor. Belton was rebuilding after a terrible flood. The City of Killeen, an agricultural shipping point, was experiencing an economic boom because crop prices were so high. African Americans in Belton and Temple were making great strides economically, educationally, and socially. Temple formed the Negro Business League, uniting their economic and political interests to better their community. Bell County’s three-day Emancipation Day celebrations (now called Juneteenth) attracted thousands of freedmen and their descendants to Bell County.
That same year, Will Stanley, an African-American man, was lynched in Temple by a vigilante mob. He was not the only one. Bell County had many, many more. By 1915, every southern state, including Texas, had effectively destroyed the gains that blacks had made since 1865. Every time whites took one step forward, Bell County’s African-American citizens were pushed two steps back. At the exact same time, the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a statue on the Belton Courthouse square to honor those who fought and were defeated in an insurrection against our government. The presence of a Confederate statue on the square told African Americans, “Do not forget who is in charge here.”
These recent weeks have brought our country and our nation to a crossroads. How long will Bell County continue to honor the losers from a 19th-Century rebellion with a 20th-Century symbol of oppression after witnessing 21st-Century murders and protests?
We are asking the Bell County Commissioners Court and the good citizens of Bell County: “Whose memories do we keep? Who has the right to remember? Who do we serve by retaining antiquated symbols that hurt others? Where are the explanations of Emancipation’s importance? Where are the stories of African-American laborers who built our cities, dug our water lines, cleaned our houses, cooked our meals?”
Keeping the Confederate statue on public grounds, Bell County continues to sanitize violence and slavery at the expense of those who helped build this county. The courthouse square should be reserved for artifacts that celebrate justice and our shared achievements. It is past time for Commissioners Court to show leadership by removing a statue that honors a terrible insurrection against our government, enslavement of African Americans, and a legacy of human failings and injustice.
Ami J. Hooper