Ray Williams keeps a Confederate battle flag in his storefront window and has another hanging from a back wall at his boot shop on the Comanche town square, a dusty block of antique stores, a law office and an insurance agency.
And he has a clear view across the street, where a stone monument on the county courthouse lawn honors Confederate soldiers in this town of about 4,500 about two hours southwest of Fort Worth.
“These brave men,” the engraving reads, “suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all and facing death carried the banners of the Confederacy.”
“I’m from the South and proud to be from the South,” Williams said. “I don’t hate people of color at all … The big cities, they’re trying to make it about something else.”
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As the nation reels from the violent clash over a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Va. — and officials in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio consider the future of statues there — little resistance has been forthcoming over similar monuments in the rural counties southwest of Fort Worth. Hundreds of Confederate veterans are buried here, and several towns are named after Confederate leaders.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not an issue,” said Hood County Judge Darrell Cockerham, summing up the sentiment of most in the region. “It’s history. It represents the past, and it’s important to a lot of people.”
President Donald Trump tweeted his defense of monuments to Confederate icons Thursday: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”
Others see it differently.
Renee Warner, a black Tarleton student from Austin, said moving to Stephenville was eye-opening.
Not only does the town have the Confederate monument, but across the street from the Tarleton campus is the cemetery where many Confederate veterans are buried. Each year, Warner said, tiny Confederate battle flags dot the cemetery grounds at the veterans’ graves.
“I’ve never felt as much of a minority as I’ve felt in that town,” Warner said. “This is a culture for them. They have their Southern pride. Even though I didn’t understand it, I was forced to respect that because we were a minority. They’re holding onto a part of history that is terrifying to a lot of people.”
In Dallas, where protesters clashed over Confederate statues last week, Mayor Mike Rawlings formed a task force this week to determine what to do with the monuments, saying they “divide us versus unite us.”
According to data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, many of the Confederate monuments across the country were erected in the early 1900s, at the height of the Jim Crow era and around the time the NAACP formed.
“They have little to do with the war,” said Michael Landis, a Civil War history professor at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. “They’re much more about ‘states rights’ and ‘home rule.’ Those buzzwords ... they are much more about white communities sending messages. Communities would erect these markers as a way to send the message to those coming through, ‘If you are black, you are not welcome here.’ ”
Under the radar
In addition to Granbury, Comanche and Fort Worth, monuments to Confederate veterans stand outside county offices in Weatherford, Cleburne and Stephenville. The Star-Telegram spoke with county officials in each town this week.
None have concerns that the monuments are racially offensive and none have plans to discuss whether the monuments are appropriate. None of the judges reported more than two complaints about their monuments over the years.
“Why are they trying to rewrite history?” Comanche County Judge James Arthur asked. “We got problems with juveniles and dope smokers and wife beaters. We got more problems than a Confederate war memorial.”
Even in Fort Worth, where a small monument outside the Tarrant County courthouse honors Confederate veterans and their descendants who fought in other wars, the issue has flown quietly under the radar.
“One of the big differences is that it doesn’t memorialize one particular individual,” Tarrant County administrator G.K. Maenius said. “It doesn’t deal solely with the Civil War. It deals with the descendants. It’s more general in nature.”
Erath County has deep ties to Confederate veterans — more than 600 are buried in the county, which was named after Maj. George B. Erath.
The stone monument there, standing on the west side of the Victorian-style courthouse, bears a Texas flag and a Confederate battle flag and lauds the “ordinary men” who “took up arms to fight an extraordinary war.”
When the statue was dedicated in 2001, Mayor John Moser, a Vietnam veteran, spoke of the importance of “honoring the courage and sacrifice made by men for a cause in which they believed.”
“Not all causes prevail, nor are wars to achieve them always successful,” Moser said in the dedication speech. “What is constant and worthy of honor is the courage and sacrifice of men who answered when called to arms.”
Moser, now retired, stood by his remarks this week.
“It was not a monument to slavery,” Moser said. “It was a monument to the citizens of Erath County.”
Erath County Judge Tab Thompson, who was also in office when the monument was erected, said people wanting to remove Confederate monuments “are going to have to grow up.”
“Nobody is wanting to relive and refight the Civil War,” Thompson said. “No one is espousing slavery — in fact, it’s just the opposite. If we don’t learn from our mistakes in the past, how can we avoid those same mistakes in the future?”
In Parker County, a statue of Confederate soldier Tom Green Camp has towered over the courthouse lawn in downtown Weatherford since 1929.
“There has not been any pushback in this community,” County Judge Mark Riley said. “Any time any of these incidents start happening, usually people say, ‘You’re going to protect our property, aren’t you?’ And they mean the statue … and we certainly are.”
Camp, sculpted in Georgia with granite from South Carolina and Vermont, was dedicated to the Confederate veterans of the county. He stands tall, about 15 feet high atop a base of gray granite, and looks south across a busy traffic circle, toward the Downtown Cafe and a mural of the county’s famed peach festival.
As Riley spoke to the Star-Telegram in front of the statue Wednesday, two passing motorists shouted, “Don’t take that statue down!”
“My position is that it’s history,” Riley said. “Instead of erasing history and trying to have a sterile society, I think that we should work on resolving hurt and learning from history.”
The United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money for the statue, beginning in the early 1900s.
The group also backed the Granbury statue, erected in 1913, and the monument outside the Tarrant County courthouse in 1953. The Sons of Confederate Veterans backed monuments outside the Erath County courthouse in Stephenville in 2001 and the Comanche County courthouse in 2002.
Marshall Davis, a spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans Texas division, said the monuments are intended to show “the true history of the South,” arguing that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, not slavery.
Stephenville and Comanche also have memorials to other war veterans outside their courthouses, and Comanche has a statue of a Native American.
In Cleburne, the town’s namesake, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, was erected in bronze in 2015 at the corner of West Chambers and South Buffalo streets, near the district courthouse.
Cleburne, who died in battle in Tennessee, stands dressed in full uniform on a base of stone, looking up from a pair of binoculars. Beneath his feet, a plaque quotes Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who called Cleburne “The Stonewall of the West.”
Cleburne wasn’t buried in the town, but down the street from his statue, at Cleburne Memorial Park, more than 400 Confederate veterans were, their graves marked by white military-style headstones engraved with their rank and the letters “CSA” — Confederate States of America.
One monument surrounded by a white picket fence also honors the dozens of Confederate soldiers from Johnson County who died as prisoners of war in Illinois.
“It’s our history,” Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon said. “It hasn’t been an issue here, but I think when things like this are brought up, people try to make it an issue. I’d hate to see outsiders come in and drive a wedge between people.”