Attorneys representing the Sons of the Confederate Veterans are getting involved in the conversation surrounding the Confederate flag in the Williamson County Seal.
“We are disappointed that the Williamson County Board of Commissioners has asked the Tennessee Historical Commission for permission to chisel away the historic county seal at the courthouse,” said Joey Nolan, the commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Tennessee Division, adding that he believes the majority of Williamson County residents are against such an action. “I have instructed our attorneys to begin the legal actions to defend the county seal from destruction.”
Background on the county seal
Back in September, the county commission voted to request permission from the Tennessee Historical Commission to remove the Confederate flag from the upper-left quadrant of the Williamson County Seal, which was adopted in 1968. This was the first official action taken towards the removal of the symbol by the county commission, though many other events preceded the vote.
About seven months ago, as conversations about racial justice and Confederate imagery buzzed throughout the nation following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, Franklin resident Dustin Koctar started an online petition to remove the flag from the county seal, bringing the buzz closer to home for many local residents.
As of Dec. 30, the petition had over 11,300 signatures, but the topic first came to the attention of the county commission in June as its members received a flood of emails from citizens both in opposition to the symbol on county property and in defense of the symbol’s historic representation.
After several weeks of debate and discussion on the county floor and among the community, the county commission established a task force in mid-July to consider whether or not there is “substantial need” to alter the county seal.
Ultimately, after receiving feedback from 1,225 local residents on the issue (52% of whom supported the flag’s removal and 43% of whom wished to maintain the status-quo) and considering various impacts of a change, the nine-member task force unanimously recommended removal of the flag from the seal.
The county commission voted 16-7 to accept the task force’s recommendation to send a petition to the Tennessee Historical Commission for approval, which was officially submitted by the county on Nov. 5.
The state commission will hear the petition at its February meeting, which will begin at 9 a.m. on Feb. 18, and must approve by a two-thirds majority in order for the county to take action.
Those interested in providing comments during the hearing can find more information at tn.gov/content/tn/environment/about-tdec/boards-and-commissions/board-tennessee-historical-commission.html.
Sons of Confederate Veterans to get involved in debate
On Dec. 29, the Tennessee Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans announced its attorneys will file as an interested party with the Tennessee Historical Commission.
Nolan, who heads the division, said he has received “hundreds of calls and emails from residents who are furious” about the county’s decision to request removal of the flag from the seal. He shared he believes many Williamson County residents would prefer to vote on the issue surrounding the seal rather than have the commission decide.
“The mayor has told our representatives that there was no legal way to hold a referendum, but we question that opinion and would like verification from the state attorney general,” Nolan said. “Mayor (Rogers) Anderson assembled a task force that was guaranteed to give him the result that he wanted.”
Gene Andrews, a member of the organization’s camp in Brentwood, noted Williamson County has rich American Civil War history and much of the county’s tourism is tied to its historical sites and elements.
“It seems like the county is trying to alienate one of its biggest traveler demographics, and this erasure of history is just not the message we need to be sending,” he said.
Jason Boshers, the commander-in-chief of the national Sons of Confederate Veterans organization and a Middle Tennessee resident, said he wishes the county commission will reconsider its vote.
“If the county moves forward with a filing to the (Tennessee Historical Commission), then we will be obligated, nationally, to defend the seal,” he said.