After a lengthy and fervent public comment session at Monday’s meeting, the Madison County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a proclamation to designate April as Confederate History and Heritage Month, an item removed from the court’s agenda during their last meeting March 11.
Though the original proposer of the proclamation, Tommy Mayhood, asked it to be withdrawn before the last county meeting, members of the local Thomas Jewett Goree Camp, an outpost of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, made the request to revisit the issue.
“We are a heritage organization, not a hate organization,” Thomas Turner, commander of the Madisonville area CSV told the court. “I have a whole stack of proclamations from surrounding counties.”
And just as it had two weeks earlier, the proposal ignited groups on social media, with calls to attend Monday’s meeting to make voices heard. This time, though, the voices tilted more on the side of approving the measure.
The pews of the county courthouse were packed Monday as the session available for public comment about agenda items spread to around a half hour. Ten county citizens shared their thoughts with commissioners, nine of whom supported the proclamation.
Linda Sueing Jackson of Midway was the sole voice of dissent, asking that the county shelve the proclamation.
“Each Confederate soldier has his own monument – his gravestone,” she said, after reading the original Texas ordinance to join the Confederacy. She highlighted passages of the measure that spoke ill of black people and in support of slavery as reasons to join the Confederate States of America in the Civil War.
“This proclamation honors this racist cause,” she said. “You as commissioners can move us forward in a positive manner or you can set us back.”
Monday’s proclamation had one difference from the one a half-month earlier, which also called for the display of the first national flag of the confederacy on county grounds, though County Judge Tony Leago thought that made little difference this time around.
“I don’t think that mattered,” he said after the meeting adjourned. “This time, the community just had an opportunity to come together and speak to each other.”
Leago, who read a passage from Matthew 12:25 (“ Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand”) to the assembled crowd before opening the meeting Monday, said he felt someone was trying to create disunity in the county with the controversary over the proclamation, which has actually been approved by the county for more than a decade.
“Someway, somehow, somebody decided to make this an issue,” Leago said. He added that he felt online, TV and other media reports were off-base in their characterizations of the issue.
Bill Blow of Midway, also speaking during the public comment session, indeed pointed out that he had visited on the matter with Steve Green, president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
“I spent three hours with the head of the NAACP here,” Blow said. “I’m not going to say we agreed, but we opened a channel to make things as right as possible.
Blow and others were adamant that the call for a Confederate History and Heritage month was simply to recognize history and their ancestors, not as a measure borne of racist inclinations.
“It breaks my heart that anyone would think what we are trying to do here is hateful,” Blow said.
“Like it or not, Texas was a Confederate state,” Shelby Little said during public comment. “But the men from Texas were not risking their lives to keep people in bondage.”
After all public comment was exhausted, the commissioners worked through the remaining items on the agenda until reaching the proposed proclamation. They passed the measure in a subdued manner, greeted by light applause from those in support.
Commissioners also approved a proclamation to designate April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, which generated no public comment or display.
The court spent more time looking into more detail on other agenda items, such as approving spending $21,117 in contingency funds to replace showers, toilets and skinks at the county jail. The current plumbing operates on a pneumatic system that will be replaced with a more efficient system by I-CON Systems, Inc.
In brief matters, commissioners also approved a bid by Prosperity Bank for a county depository contract. It was the only bid received.
The court approved accepting procedures in separate measures relating to use of the Hotel and Occupancy Tax – in part designating the funs solely for tourism expansion efforts – and for contributions to non-profit organizations.
“There’s some new legislation (on contributing to non-profit organizations), so this will bring us in compliance going forward,” Leago said.