It’s been nearly two years since a determined effort was initiated to remove the image of a Confederate flag from the Williamson County seal, and the issue will once again be addressed when the Tennessee Historical Commission meets this week for discussion and a public hearing.
Specifically, the THC will hold its regularly scheduled meeting to consider a petition for declaratory order filed by Williamson County Attorney Jeff Mosley in November, a meeting that had been delayed last October and again in February. The meeting is scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. in the Tennessee Tower in downtown Nashville, and it’s open to the public either in-person or virtually.
The county’s petition seeks to determine whether its proposed action to alter the seal is subject to the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. The commission will first decide whether to hear the county’s PDO, and if members agree, then the county will make the case that the seal is not a memorial under the THPA and a vote from the commission is not required to alter it.
If the THC agrees with that argument, then no final hearing or vote is required. If members disagree, the final hearing will likely be scheduled for June.
Dustin Koctar, a board member of the Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition who helped lead the effort to have the Confederate flag removed from the county seal, said he is cautiously optimistic the THC will grant a waiver.
“We live in a state that is conservative, in a community that is conservative, but we similarly agree that local knows best,” said Koctar, who has garnered nearly 12,000 signatures in a petition he started to remove Confederate branding from the seal. “I think Williamson County has made a very strong argument for the removal of this. I think there’s plenty of ground to say that this is the right thing to do, and we as a county agree it’s the right thing to do.”
While there had been the occasional motion to remove the flag from the Williamson County seal, which was designed in 1968, the effort particularly took hold in June 2020 in the wake of the shooting deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and the enhanced movement of Black Lives Matter.
The Williamson County Commission soon took up the matter and appointed a task force to evaluate the merits of altering the county seal. That task force, led by Williamson Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen, produced a report recommending the removal of the controversial symbol. County commissioners voted 16-7 later to approve the recommendation, which had been reached unanimously.
In the meantime, the Sons of Confederate Veterans got involved and vowed to take legal action against the county. The organization had requested to delay the hearing from October last year to February due to a claim that its attorney had a scheduling conflict from a planned medical procedure, and that more time was needed for the discovery process.
There has been plenty of support to have the flag removed from the seal, including from Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson, the county commission, Williamson Inc., the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, religious leaders, nonprofits and several businesses such as Mars Petcare, Mitsubishi and the Good Food Group, among others.
Koctar, for one, questions whether the issue should have ever become entangled at the state level in the first place.
“Even at the basic level,” he said, "should a state commission have oversight of a county’s logo? I don’t think so. I think it would be a pretty bad precedent not to allow Williamson County to change the seal, especially since the intent is to remove a symbol of white supremacy.”