WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — The fight to abolish confederate symbols is happening across the country, including in Williamson county.
On Tuesday, Franklin-resident Dustin Koctar created a petition calling for the removal of the confederate flag from the Williamson County seal, and the recreation of a new seal.
“There’s already been a whole lot of support, a bunch of people have already signed it [the petition]. Even people I work with have stopped by my office to talk about it …ask about it.”
The Williamson County seal can be seen here. The seal displays a confederate flag draped over a cannon in the upper left corner. According to the county website the seal was adapted in July of 1968. The county website adds that the flag and the cannon symbolize the area’s “rich history”.
Of the seal’s creation Koctar said, “[it was] the same year that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the same year that the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed, and also a couple years after Williamson County Schools became integrated.”
Koctar said he was motivated to create the petition in response to nationwide dialogue on race, justice and equality.
“There is a lot of of movement, and conversations going on in our community …within Williamson County, throughout the state, and throughout the country – and even around the world right now, in response to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.” he said, “there’s some racist history we need to reckon with and there’s racist symbols that are still in places of prominence that need to be addressed.”
On Monday, Koctar proposed a plan to the Franklin Special School District Board of Education that would allow students in Williamson county to help redesign the seal.
Koctar told News 2, “What better way than to highlight the talent, the creativity, the courage, the diversity that’s in our schools these days.”
He said his petition and ideas have been met with support and opposition.
“I’ve received a few Facebook messages.”
News 2 spoke with some Franklin residents who believe the current county seal should be left alone. Those residents didn’t want to speak on-camera.
During Monday’s county commissioner meeting, Commissioner Jennifer Mason mentioned that she and others had received numerous emails regarding the seal.
Williamson County Attorney, Jeff Moseley, said to change the seal, “the Tennessee Historical Commission would have to vote by two-thirds vote to any alteration of the county seal.”
News 2 reached out to the Tennessee Historical Commission who said that they do not initiate any changes but rather, the Williamson County commission would first have to adopt a resolution asking them [the Commission] to approve a change.
Commissioner Beth Lothers responded to News 2’s request for comment saying,
“I’ve been talking with historians and locals since this issue has been raised. I think it could be useful to have a committee representing different points of view, and generations come together and discuss this more deeply. There may be a consensus that emerges from that process. There has been an initial reach out for that.”
Commissioner Erin Nations responded to News 2’s request for comment saying,
“Removing the Confederate flag from the Williamson County seal is not something I am willing to support. Our county is rich with history; that is something on which we pride ourselves. The concentration of Civil War history we have in this County is one of the reasons why so many people choose to visit here each year. People come to Franklin to teach their children about our nation’s history. They are able to visit battlefields, museums, and access an abundance of information and experiences about the Civil War. This is part of what makes Williamson County such an incredibly unique place and I am not willing to be a part of the effort to erase that history. “
Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson responded to News 2’s request for comment saying,
The County Mayor’s office has received a number of communications from citizens inquiring about the Confederate flag that appears in one quadrant of the seal of Williamson County that was adopted in 1968. We recognize that the confederate flag, included on the seal to reflect the civil war history of our County, has since been used by some groups to communicate a message of hate and violence that is inconsistent with the spirit of our County. Neither the County Mayor’s office nor the County Commission have the power to simply change the seal. A law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2013 requires that any memorial that is public property (including artwork owned by a public entity) and that commemorates a “historic conflict” (which includes the War Between the States), cannot be altered unless approval is obtained from the Tennessee Historical Commission. The County Commission has the option to adopt a resolution asking the Historical Commission to approve this change, but no commissioner has filed such a resolution at this point.
In regards to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, Koctar said,
“All lives don’t matter if a white man can go into Mother Emanuel AME Church and kill nine black churchgoers and be arrested without incident and then you have George Floyd who has the weight of a police officer on his neck for nearly nine minutes because of a forgery. We need to realize all lives don’t matter because not all lives are fighting for their humanity right now.”