A petition aiming to have the confederate statue outside of the Harrison County Courthouse in downtown Marshall removed has reached over 1,000 signatures in two days.
The petition was officially started six days ago, but gained traction in the last 48 hours, when it surpassed its original goal of 500 signatures, and then a secondary goal of 1,000 during that time.
President of Marshall Against Violence, Demetria McFarland, began the petition, stating that she considered the statue a symbol of white supremacy.
“This is a symbol of the history of one race, the white race,” McFarland said. “There are no statues of my heritage as a black woman, but to me this statue represents a horrible and painful piece of history. By keeping it displayed on the courthouse lawn, with a camera overlooking it, that says to me that those ideals that the statue represents are important to those who run the courthouse.”
The statue stands on the East side of the Harrison County Courthouse and was erected in 1905 by the Marshall Chapter No. 412 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The monument was dedicated January 16, 1906, on Robert E. Lee’s birthday.
McFarland also presented on her reasons for wanting the statue removed to Harrison County Commissioners Court, Wednesday morning.
“I know what I felt when I was standing there at that statue, I remembered how my father, my son, my grandfather, every black man in my life, would have had to be terrified of every man that that statue represents,” McFarland said.
The petition itself has been met with mixed reviews from the community. A portion of the community has spoken out against the statue removal, claiming that removing the monument would be equivalent to erasing portions of local history.
“These statues may represent an era some don’t want to be reminded of but we overcame it and we learned from it. We don’t learn when we run from our wrongs, but instead when we face them. We can explain the history to our kids and remind them how far our country has come,” said Marshall community member Amanda Rohrbaugh.
Rohrbaugh said she believes that removing the confederate monument won’t solve the issues the community is facing, but that the key is to remember the history, and teach the next generation to be better.
“Removing statues isn’t going to solve anything because everyone is still going to hold their own beliefs and opinions. However, removing a statue isn’t going to change what happened years ago. Leave it and teach your kids and grandkids what happened and how our country overcame that time period. In the Bible it say a house divided will not stand. Same goes for our country. Division is only going to cause more problems,” she said.
Community member Bill Redmon echoed Rohrbaugh’s statements, saying that the statue is of a United States veteran, and removing the statue from the grounds, including moving it to a historical cemetery or museum, would be disrespectful.
“These solders have just as many rights as I have for the time that I served,” Redmon said. “It just isn’t right.”
However, a number of community members have also spoken up in agreement with McFarland, including Tasha Williams, who organized a protest event in Marshall June 19, for Juneteenth.
During the event William’s spoke up against the statue, and she reiterated those statements, saying she was in favor of the petition, and that she has already signed it.
“If people would do a little research they would maybe come to sympathize and understand the pain a lot of African Americans feel when they are looking at these statues,” she said.
Williams mentioned the lynching of a Black man in Marshall, after a mob drug him out of the county jail located in the city in 1903.
Records from the Marshall News Messenger along with an article from the 2016 East Texas Historical Journal by Brandon Jett corroborate this story, stating that in October 1903 local law enforcement officers attempted to arrest Walter Davis, a Black man, and the following incident resulted in Davis being lynched in Marshall.
During the arrest one officer was killed by family members of Davis, who shot at the officers.
Davis was arrested along with two other male family members, and when word of the death of the local law enforcement officer at the hands of Black men reached the community, a mob was formed.
Without interference from local law enforcement the mob was able to take Davis out of the jail with a noose on his neck, and they later hung him on a nearby bridge, and shot into his body.
Williams pointed out that two years later, near the site of the attack at the jail on Davis, this statue was erected in honor of confederate soldiers.
“What people need to understand is that this is a generational pain,” Williams said. “I can still remember growing up in the ‘70s and my grandparents would warn me that when I was talking to Mrs. so-and-so not to look up at her. They were afraid, and we are still afraid.”
She said that she is not in favor of removing this part of history, and does not want to see the statue destroyed. Rather, Williams said she wants to see the statue moved to a museum where it can be protected and people who want to learn about the history are welcome to visit.
“People have very strong opinions about this, and I know that it can be very divisive,” Williams said. “However, this issue does not have to divide us. In Marshall, we can be the first city to come together in unity and move the statue peacefully without any controversy.”
This petition comes during a time of national movement to remove monuments and markers from the confederacy, as well as Christopher Columbus and a number of former American Presidents.
The protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota have sparked a new wave of statue removal across the country. Since protests began in May a confederate statue in Birmingham, Alabama, and three statues in North Carolina have been removed.
Both the mayor of Birmingham and the governor of North Carolina stated that the statues were removed to protect public safety due to the unrest that may have resulted from the state’s refusal to remove the confederate monuments.
The Army also announced it would rename Fort Bragg and other military bases named for confederate soldiers. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines also prohibited the display of the Confederate flag on base.
The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/harrison-county-commissioners-removal-of-confederate-statue-from-the-harrison-county-courthouse-grounds-marshall-tx?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=1a5467b0-b1a9-11ea-887b-01626a7495b2.
“What I ask is that everyone takes the time, and reads the petition. If they don’t agree with it I want them to tell me, to let us know,” McFarland said. “I believe that if people really listen to what the Black people of this community have to say, they will understand why this matters so much.”