WillCo Seal in Franklin

The Williamson County seal is on the wall the auditorium of the Administrative Complex in Franklin. The Tennessee Historical Commission has allowed the county to alter the image of the Confederate flag, which is draped over a cannon in the upper left quadrant.

Members of the Tennessee Historical Commission voted unanimously Friday to effectively permit Williamson County to alter a portion of its county seal that depicts an image of a Confederate flag draped over a cannon.

In a hearing that lasted about 2½ hours at the Tennessee Tower in downtown Nashville, commissioners voted 23-0 to accept a petition for declaratory order that was filed with the THC in November by Williamson County Attorney Jeff Mosley, who represented the county at the hearing. The petition had sought to show the altering of the county seal is not subject to the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act and that it is not a memorial as defined by the THPA.

“The question before the commission is not whether the Battle of Franklin was significant,” Mosley said in his closing argument. “The question before the commission is not whether it was a historical event. 

“The question before the commission is whether the county seal meets the definition of a memorial under the statute… I would ask the commission to stay focused on the narrow judicial question before it to determine that the county seal is not a memorial under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act and grant the petition for declaratory order.”

On the other side of the issue was the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which had requested to intervene not long after Williamson County had put in motion plans to have the image altered in June 2020. H. Edward Phillips, the attorney representing the SCV at Friday’s hearing, argued that the seal is indeed a memorial and should be protected.

“At some point, it really comes down to this agency making a decision as to whether or not this… was erected for the history of Williamson County,” Phillips said in his closing argument. “Of course, it was; it was designed for that purpose. It’s clear as the nose on my face, … it’s that simple. So with that being said, I would respectfully request that this commission vote to deny the petition for declaratory order filed by Williamson County.”

Officials with the county and others had launched a campaign nearly two years ago to remove the image, motivated primarily after the shooting deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and the enhanced movement of Black Lives Matter. 

The Williamson County Commission took up the matter and appointed a task force to evaluate the merits of altering the county seal. That task force unanimously recommended the removal of the controversial image, and the county commission later voted 16-7 to approve the recommendation.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans can appeal Friday's decision through the Davidson County Chancery Court.