Commentary: Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die

Williamson County seal.
Williamson County seal.

The Civil War ended 155 years ago but controversy about its ramifications continues across the country and nowhere is it more prevalent than in the South, the area that – let’s be honest – started the war of insurrection. 

Before continuing, I’ll share my own history. My McCall ancestors moved to Williamson County in the 1790s on a land grant earned fighting in the Revolutionary War. They fought for the South in the Civil War, as did my mother’s family, the Holmes’s. And one of my earliest memories is standing at Winstead Hill with my father, overlooking the site of the Battle of Franklin, while dad described John Bell Hood’s flawed battle strategy that led to the Army of Tennessee’s lopsided defeat. 

To this day, I’ll read any book on Civil War history and I like nothing better than walking a battlefield envisioning offensive lines and charges.

I share this for context. I grew up steeped in Civil War culture in a town – Franklin – that markets Civil War tourism quite successfully. Five years ago, I moved back into the house in which I grew up, a house built on the path Union soldiers used to march to Nashville after the Battle of Franklin. 

The area sure has changed since I was a kid here. Once primarily a farming and factory county, Williamson is now the most affluent county in the state and one of the 15 most affluent in the country, with an average income of well over $100,000. Our school system is the best in Tennessee. 

But we haven’t escaped a reckoning with our Confederate history and have our own sturm and drang here over the Williamson county seal.

Civic pride shouldn’t rest on a symbol of insurrection to the United States and people who call themselves American patriots can’t also defend the display of the Confederate battle flag.

Designed in 1968 by two pillars of the community, the seal features four quadrants.   One quadrant is occupied by Robert E. Lee’s battle flag, more commonly recognized now as the Confederate flag, draped over a cannon.

There’s a campaign afoot to remove the flag from the seal. The only body that can approve the change is the Tennessee Historical Commission, a board of 29 people, including the governor, who hails from Williamson County.  

So the next step in Williamson County is a task force, created to study the issue and make a recommendation to the County Commission, which will then make a recommendation to the Historical Commission.

Despite the hoops to jump through, this should be an easy call.

Civic pride shouldn’t rest on a symbol of insurrection to the United States and people who call themselves American patriots can’t also defend the display of the Confederate battle flag. No good comes from having the Confederate battle flag on a county seal in 2020 unless you want to be thought of as backwards. 

You don’t have to be a “Yankee” or a newcomer to the area to recognize this problem. Now, I’m no paragon of social justice. I wish I could say I’ve always spoken out against issues of systemic racism and classism, but I haven’t.  I have evolved with age, however, and it’s time for Williamson County to evolve past this seal.

Williamson County leaders need to recognize it’s going to be tough to maintain a reputation as the “smartest” county if they persist in keeping a symbol of mutiny to the U.S. on the official seal, an insurrection spurred over not just states’ rights, but only one right: The right to buy, sell and own other human beings. 

This is not, as opponents say, a slippery slope to tearing down historic sites. I don’t advocate for that nor have I heard anyone else. Our area makes millions of dollars in tax revenue from tourists who throng to Carnton Plantation, the Carter House and the largest private Confederate cemetery in the country. As the preservation of Normandy and Verdun serve the purpose of teaching us about WWII and WWI respectively, so should we learn from those sites. 

But the county seal, the most forward facing emblem of our county, only serves to show two things: It shows our Black neighbors we care more about commemorating a system that enslaved their forebears and it shows outsiders that for all our pride in progress, we just can’t quit a four year mutiny that ended a long time ago.