Letter to the SU Community Regarding the Williamson County Confederate Statue
Dear Members of the Southwestern Community,
Two weeks after my family’s arrival in June of 2020, my son and I were returning from an early market trip to pick up pet food on a bright Saturday morning and drove through the Georgetown square. While passing by the courthouse, I said to my son, I think I just saw a Confederate soldier walking down the sidewalk. We parked and walked over to the square and saw for the first time the Confederate statue. We had no idea until that moment that such a statue existed here. We were taken aback and needed time to process this unexpected jolt of contemporary southern history. In the months since then, students have often asked me what I thought about the statue.
I became interested in finding out more about how, when, and why the statue was erected. I am indebted to Melissa Johnson for generously sharing with me her extensive and invaluable research about Southwestern’s institutional history, beginning with its founding, as well as the results of the projects Southwestern students have engaged in through SCOPE and the presentations that took place in the most recent Race and Ethnicity Studies Symposium. This is the kind of research that exemplifies the best of what faculty and students do together here at Southwestern. An article written by a Southwestern student about the statue and attendant protests as a final project in a Journalism course taught by Bob Bednar was very helpful. We are fortunate to have such a talented research librarian as Megan Firestone who unearthed census data, old copies of The Williamson County Sun, Southwestern University documents, and information about “The Birth of a Nation,” among various other subjects. Recently when I was returning to Georgetown, I noticed a billboard that the Southern Poverty Law Center has erected calling for the statue’s removal and am aware of our students and faculty’s long involvement in the Saturday protests.
When I become interested in a subject, I try and learn as much as I can about it from as many different sources as possible. Over the holiday break, I did a great deal of reading and writing and learned about Southwestern University’s history, about Georgetown, about the McNeel Marble Company, and much more about the Lost Cause. Of course, since I study a writer whose long career lasted throughout the Antebellum Period, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, and the beginning of the Jim Crow era, this work increased my understanding of the works by Mark Twain.
I am grateful to Professors Melissa Johnson, Eric Selbin, and Bob Bednar, Southwestern friend Helen Cordes, as well as longtime friend of Southwestern and community leader Rev. Dr. Ron Swain for reading various drafts of my essay and providing me with feedback and additional information. You have all been teachers to me and I am most grateful. As a relative newcomer to this fascinating and historic part of the country, and as a person who deeply cares about the issues the Georgetown monument raises, here is what I have found.
Laura Skandera Trombley
President, Southwestern University