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Texas Town 'Balances' Confederate Statue With One Of Lawyer Who Fought KKK

Amid calls to remove a confederate statue, Georgetown, Texas erected a monument to Dan Moody, a lawyer who charged and convicted four members of the local KKK in the 1920s.
Wade Goodwyn
Amid calls to remove a confederate statue, Georgetown, Texas erected a monument to Dan Moody, a lawyer who charged and convicted four members of the local KKK in the 1920s.

Arguments over Confederate statuary and flags rage on across the South. Confederate memorials in Norfolk and St. Louis were vandalized, the small town of Brandenburg, Ky. welcomed a Confederate statue that the University of Louisville had taken down and New Orleans has now removed four monuments. Controversies have also sprouted in Virginia, South Carolina and Maryland.

The debate over monuments usually centers around one question — should they stay or should they go? Now, some leaders of a town in Texas with their own controversial confederate statue believe they've found a third option — though not everyone is thrilled with their compromise.

Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross stands in his historic town square, hand resting proudly on the chest of Dan Moody, the city's latest statuarial acquisition.

"He is an icon in Williamson County. He was responsible for the first successful prosecution of the KKK in the United States of America," Ross explained.

Young Dan Moody stands proudly in bronze, hat in one hand, law book in the other. In 1923, Georgetown's 29-year-old district attorney charged and convicted four members of the local Ku Klux Klan for the whipping and tarring of a traveling salesman. It was during the height of the Klan's power, which had grown to millions of members nationwide. In Texas, that included one U.S. senator and the mayors of Dallas, Ft. Worth and Wichita Falls.

Ross says Moody's decision to prosecute stunned the conservative Georgetown community.

"Back in the day you had the Ku Klux Klan that was in every level of government, they were the leaders of the community," he said. "And so this was a totally courageous move by Dan Moody because he put his life in jeopardy."

Moody's triumph over the Klan made him nationally famous and he went on to become the youngest governor in Texas history.

These days, Georgetown is a conservative suburb north of Austin of 60,000 people. There'd long been talk about erecting a statue of Dan Moody. But in June of 2015, a racist rampage at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. changed the conversation.

The killings of nine black worshipers prompted a political backlash against Southern battle flags and Confederate memorials. And that included in Georgetown.

"I called our county judge [and] said, 'I'm sure there are going to be some kind of issues here,'" said Mickie Ross, director of the Williamson Museum in Georgetown. Her prediction was correct.

A local group of African-Americans, Unitarian and Methodist Ministers and white liberals had been advocating for something to happen with a 100-year-old statue of a confederate soldier that towers over the town square — move it to Ross's museum or at least put a plaque next to it detailing the realities of Georgetown slave life at the time.

But the town's predominately conservative white leadership wasn't crazy about either of those ideas. But what about adding a statue of the local hero who once fought the Ku Klux Klan?

"And there began to be some letters to the editor about maybe we should promote Dan Moody here," Ross said.

So last October, a spiffy, forever young Dan Moody took his place on the courthouse square.

In the beautifully restored courtroom where Moody won his four historic assault cases, author Patricia Bernstein recently addressed a crowd who's come to hear her talk about Moody and the Klan.

Bernstein's book is entitled 10 Dollars To Hate, because that's how much it cost to join the Texas Klan in the 20s.

"My motive is not so much to remove every Confederate statue but to have more of a balance in our public life," she said. "This new wave that's just starting to get started of celebrating other kinds of heroes that have more to say for our own time."

But some in Georgetown disagree that adding a statue of someone like Dan Moody fairly offsets the history a Confederate statue represents.

"Well it came about without our input. No one asked us," said Jaquita Wilson, a leader in Georgetown's small African-American community.

Wilson says Dan Moody means little to nothing to people of color in Williamson County. And that people of color have historically meant little to nothing to white Williamson County.

"When you walk around this courthouse, there's no mention that there were Latinos, that there were Native Americans, that there were African-Americans here," she said. "Just white Georgetown."

Now here's the twist in the Dan Moody story. Remember that traveling salesman the Georgetown Klan whipped and tarred back in 1923? Ralph Burleson was a young, World War I veteran, knocking around the country selling silk hosiery door to door. And he was white.

The reason the Klan got agitated was that Burleson rented a room in a Georgetown widow's house. It was a straightforward boarding arrangement but the Klan didn't like the optics so it turned Burleson into a half-dead bloody pulp. The young district attorney was appalled and decided he didn't want the KKK to get away with it on his watch. But, Wilson says, none of it had anything to do with Georgetown's black community.

The Dan Moody statue, she says, "definitely wasn't for us." After he rode that victory to governorship, he made it his business to reduce the voting rights of African-Americans.

In 1944, Moody tried to prohibit African-Americans from voting in the Texas Democratic primary, arguing the party was like a private club and therefore could keep black voters out.

Jaquita Wilson says if Georgetown wants to make a gesture to its black community it should take down the towering symbol of slavery and oppression that stands in the town square.

"It gives me like a punch in the gut," she said about the statue.

But for Retired Colonel Shelby Little, leader of the Williamson County chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the memorial is a monument, not to slavery, but to the Confederate soldiers that served in the war.

"It's something we are facing all across America and even right here in Georgetown Texas," he said, "the abysmal illiteracy when it comes to history."

Standing in a Georgetown cemetery next to the graves of 113 Confederate soldiers, Little says the memorial will stay right where it is unadorned by any plaque about black people or slavery.

"They have an agenda and they are not going to stop until they see that agenda satisfied," he said of people who want to move or change it. "If they want to put a plaque on the other side of the courthouse or somewhere in the area that is great. But don't impugn the integrity of our Confederate heroes."

It's almost cliché when writing about politics in the South to quote William Faulkner's line: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

But never is that more true than when trying to decide who exactly gets honored in Southern town squares.

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Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.