I’m writing to commend The Paris News’s commentary (June 14, 2020) on the Lamar County Courthouse Confederate statue. I love Lamar County. What’s more, I love studying the history of Lamar County. The good, the bad and the ugly.
I had always heard that the statue was placed in the 1920s, but was corrected recently and told that it was erected in 1903. That struck me. There are numerous local lynchings that occurred around that time, including the infamous Henry Smith lynching in 1893 and even Reverend J.H. McClinton, who was shot at the front door of his home on Christmas Day in 1901, just two years before the statue was erected. Could the people attached to these lynchings be tied to the statue? I wanted proof.
I managed to find (in an old Confederate Magazine) an article proudly announcing the unveiling of the statue. It suggests at least one of the men tied to the lynchings spoke at the event, but with most of Paris’ local records destroyed in 1916 I’m hesitant to say that with certainty. However, the one name I was able to find a lot of information on was Judge Rufus Hardy from Corsicana, who was the keynote speaker at the event.
Four years later, Judge Hardy would find himself elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He made several speeches, including eulogizing known Klansmen John Tyler Morgan and Edmund Pettus on the House Floor. (Pettus is the namesake for the famous bridge from the Civil Right Movement, and was actually a Grand Dragon for the Klan.)
The most damning to me though was Hardy’s attempt to remove an established law barring courts and prosecutors from denying jury service based solely on race. He gave an impassioned speech going as far as to say, “This is a white man’s country, and if God is merciful to us it always will be.” The symbolism of a statue christened by a man who openly campaigned to have Blacks disqualified from serving on a jury sitting on a courthouse lawn is shocking to me.
Again, I love history. I love Lamar County’s history. And yes, this statue is a part of our history and a work of art. I have no desire to see it destroyed or even forgotten. However, I think too often we’re quick to claim “don’t forget our history” and we don’t really know what it is. A careful study shows, without a doubt, that the people who placed this monument intended to oppress and intimidate people of color. Beyond that, it does nothing to commemorate the local dead. It’s simply a statue to the Confederate cause.
Moving the statue isn’t dishonoring our heritage or forgetting it. It’s saying we’ve studied and learned from it. I believe it’s time for the white population of Lamar County (whether they agree or not) to say that they are listening to the voices of the Black community. That they’re as much a part of the community as anyone else and their voice matters. For that reason I applaud The Paris News and echo their message: “The courthouse must depict equality!”