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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

It is Time to Revise Williamson County's Official Seal

On today's date, 1968, Judge Fulton Greer accepted the current (and first and only) version of Williamson County's official seal at the July 15, 1968, Quarterly Court Term.


Wiliamson County Seal

According to the County's website, "The upper left section depicts a flag and cannon, which symbolizes the rich history in the county."  It hardly needs pointing out that the seal does not merely contain "a flag." It is the Confederate flag - It is not the flag of the United States nor the flag of the state of Tennessee.  Using this particular flag only reflects one part of our rich history - it leaves out the men who fought for the Union during the Civil War - white and black; it omits the history of Williamson County's native sons who fought to preserve this country. 

This has to change. It is shameful that we as a community are choosing to elevate one flag - to celebrate the values celebrated by this flag - and it is NOT the flag of our own country.  

It is also worth recognizing that this version of the "Confederate flag" represented on our official County seal was originally the battle flag of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  Later, that flag came to be seen as a national symbol of the Confederacy and was eventually co-opted by many associated with racial violence. 

Those of you who have read my blog before know that I think it is always important to understand the context in which events occur.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  Here is a brief timeline of national and local events that I believe are meaningful to understanding the significance behind the time period when the Confederate flag was the sole flag chosen to represent Williamson County's history.

May 1954. US Supreme Court unanimously passes the Brown vs. Board of Education decision ending racial segregation in public schools and knocking down the doctrine of "separate but equal."

September 1957.  Black families in Nashville were harassed and threatened on their first day of school as their first graders desegregated public schools. That night, one of the schools was bombed.

Nashville_Banner_Mon__Sep_9__1957

The_Knoxville_News_Sentinel_Mon__Sep_9__1957


That same month in Little Rock, Arkansas the Governor called in State Guardsmen to prevent nine high school students from attending school there. Later that month, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to the school to prevent the state guard from stopping the students from attending high school.




Spring 1960 Sit-ins held by college students in Nashville cafeterias and stores to protest their segregation policies.


Agitators attack a sit-in demonstrator at Woolworth's lunch counter, February 27, 1960.
Part of the Nashville Banner Collection at Nashville Public Library.



Summer 1961. The state began a several years' long 100th-anniversary commemoration of the Civil War that was heavy on the Lost Cause and Confederate symbolism, including a parade around the state Capitol by three Confederate cavalry regiments - one of which was made up of young boys on ponies making up the Kavalry Kadet Korps [i.e., KKK] of Savannah, Tenn.

The_Tennessean_Tue__May_9__1961


August 1961. Seven years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, public schools in Williamson County were still segregated and a group of citizens in Franklin filed a formal request of the School Board for action to be taken. They also pushed for greater representation of African Americans on jury duty and in leadership positions in city and county government. At the time, Williamson County's population was about 25,000 people - about one-third of whom were Black.

Nashville_Banner_Wed__Oct_11__1961


Nashville_Banner_Thu__Oct_26__1961


Fall 1962.  Franklin Special School District desegregated using a "grade a year" voluntary plan - starting with first grade. This meant that Black families had to volunteer to send their six-year-olds to all-white schools.  Two families sent daughters to the all-white Franklin Elementary School that year.  The desegregation plan did not apply to Williamson County schools or to the high school in Franklin.

Nashville_Banner_Wed__Sep_5__1962



August 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I Have a Dream" speech during the Civil Rights March in Washington DC

July 1964. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

November 1964 - Franklin held a commemoration of the Battle of Franklin and the Confederate Monument was rededicated.

The_Tennessean_Sun__Nov_29__1964


The_Tennessean_Tue__Dec_1__1964
  

October 1966 - US Department of Education was withholding federal funds for the Franklin Special School District due to failure to adequately comply with desegregation orders.

Fall 1967 - Williamson County School Board desegregated Franklin High School and the formerly all-black Natchez High School briefly became an "annex" to FHS. No attempt was made by the County to archive or save the trophies or artifacts important to Natchez High School, which had a thriving football team, marching band, and other extracurricular programs important to the Black community. Following the desegregation of public schools, several private schools formed in the area in reaction to this change.

The_Tennessean_Fri__Jan_13__1967


April 1968. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Memphis, Tennessee

July 1968 Judge Fulton Greer accepted the current (and first and only) version of Williamson County's official seal at the July 15, 1968, Quarterly Court Term

November 1968 - Williamson County voters went for George Wallace in that year's Presidential election.  Wallace was running as the far-right American Independent party candidate and was a staunch segregationist. 

George Wallace campaigning in front of the Confederate flag


Clearly, during the years leading to the adoption of the Williamson County seal, historical memories of the Civil War, the Confederacy, and the Lost Cause had become intertwined with opinions about racial segregation for many. That may not have been the motivating factor behind the adoption of the flag on Williamson County's seal. However, regardless of the rationale, it is no longer appropriate - and never was - to only honor the flag of the Confederacy while the American flag was left off of the official County seal.

It is also worth noting that in 1968, America was embroiled in the Vietnam War.  Men from Williamson County were fighting across the world under that flag.  Several young Black men came home in body bags - including Pvt. Richard Carothers (killed in 1966 and a graduate of Natchez High School), Pvt. James Andrew Cunningham (killed in Vietnam in 1967, a 1964 Natchez High School graduate), Pvt Charles Herbert Hardison (died in Vietnam in 1968, enlisted when still a student at Natchez High School), and Spc John Willie Woods Jr (killed in Vietnam in 1966 and captain of the Natchez High School football team his senior year). 

This week, the Williamson County Commission (the modern version of the County
 Court that adopted the seal in 1968) voted to form a task force to determine whether or not there is “substantial need” to alter the Williamson County seal. The resolution calls for the nine-member task force to receive public input, determine whether there is a need to alter the seal, and study the various community impacts of such an alteration, reporting this information to the commission in September. The following representatives would comprise the task force:
County Mayor Rogers Anderson will form the task force, which will present its determination concerning the county seal to the commission at its meeting on Monday, Sept. 14.

Should the task force and the commission decide the seal should change, the County's resolution includes a clause finding that it meets the definition of a "memorial" requiring the consent of the 
Tennessee Historical Commission to be changed.  This is the same authority that governs the removal of Confederate monuments like Franklin's Confederate Monument. Therefore, a request would go before that body, where it would need two-thirds approval before a final decision could be made by the Williamson County commission.




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