Confederate group seeks to restrain Williamson County from removing flag from county seal
State attorneys representing the Tennessee Historic Commission in a case filed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A decision over whether Williamson County can remove an image of the Confederate flag from its official seal now rests with a Chancery Court judge.
The Major Nathaniel Cheairs Camp 2138 Sons of Confederate Veterans filed suit against the county and the Tennessee Historical Commission in December seeking to keep the so-called Great Seal of Williamson County — with its image of a cannon draped by a Confederate flag — intact.
Their lawsuit alleged that Williamson County and the historical commission followed an unlawful procedure when the county sought — and the historical commission granted — an official declaration that the seal is not a historic monument and therefore not subject to the state’s historic preservation law, which generally disfavors altering or removing monuments and markers of Tennessee’s history.
Before seeking that declaration, the county had begun the process of petitioning the historical commission for permission to alter the seal, an admission that the county believed the seal was, in fact, subject to the state’s historic preservation law, according to legal arguments by the the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
During a court hearing Tuesday, H. Edward Phillips, III, attorney for the Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter, said that the county’s actions “completely turned the tables” on his clients, who had been prepared to fight efforts to obtain a waiver to preservation laws but were then confronted with the county’s subsequent claim they required no state waiver to make changes to the decades-old seal, which is affixed to official documents and county properties.
“I just think the procedure is so muddled in this case…it wound up where we had a decision that, at the end of the day, was arbitrary and capricious,” Phillips said.
Wilson Buntin, Sr. an assistant state attorney general representing the Tennessee Historical Commission, said the historical commission’s decision follows the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, the law that requires historic monuments — a broad term that encompasses public statues, street names and art — to be preserved and protected.
“Their interpretation that the seal is not a monument is a reasonable interpretation of the act,” Buntin said.
The seal — a circle divided into four quadrants, each containing a different tableau — was first adopted in 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement. The Confederate flag and canon are in the upper left quadrant, while other quadrants depict a bible in front of a church window, a school house and a pasture with animals.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, the seal drew increased public criticism. A task force convened by the county recommended removing the Confederate flag image.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans is seeking a ruling that reverses the historical commission’s declaration, issued in May 2022, that the Williamson County seal is not a historic monument.
Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Patricia Head Moskal, who presided over Tuesday’s hearing, said she would take the matter under advisement and issue a written ruling “as soon as I am able to do so.”
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