Denton pastor sees Confederate memorial removal as victory

Denton-area activist Willie Hudspeth gives his thoughts about the county's plans regarding the Confederate statue during an interview Aug. 16, 2019. (Photo by Jeff Woo / Reprinted by permission of the Denton Record-Chronicle)

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DENTON—The day the Denton Confederate Soldier Memorial no longer stands on the south side of the Denton County courthouse square, Pastor Cedric Chambers of Mount Calvary Baptist Church will consider it a victory.

On June 9, Denton County commissioners voted to move the Confederate Soldiers Memorial from the courthouse square. Pastor Cedric Chambers credits the persistence of a member of his church, Willie Hudspeth. (Photo / Isa Torres)

On June 9, Denton County commissioners voted to move the monument—102 years after it was dedicated and 155 years after the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at Appomattox Court House, signaling the end of the Confederacy.

The Katie Daffan United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the memorial in Denton on June 3, 1918, in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ birthday. The Texas State Historical Association identified Daffan as the daughter of a first-generation Ku Klux Klan member.

A year after the monument was erected, the City Federation of Women’s Clubs—an organization led by members of Denton’s United Daughters of the Confederacy—led the city to remove a predominantly African-American inner-city neighborhood called Quakertown. By 1923, any trace of the self-sufficient African American community had disappeared.

Although research has not been able to prove any citizen of Denton actually fought for the Confederacy and was killed in action, the monument has continued to stand, even though many have called for its removal.

Now protests around the country have successfully removed statues honoring Confederate soldiers. While Denton County commissioners voted to safely remove the memorial, they have yet to announce when it will be removed and where it will go. Last year, the county also said it would consider adding historical context to the monument, but it never added anything.

Pastor credit’s persistence of Willie Hudspeth

When the monument finally is removed, Chambers believes credit belongs largely to the persistence of a member of his congregation, Willie Hudspeth, who has advocated its removal since 1999.

Hudspeth, a Vietnam veteran and retired teacher, became well known in the city, where he consistently protested the memorial on Sundays and also attended county commissioners’ meetings. But for years, the commissioners and county judges ignored Hudspeth’s requests.

“Willie’s consistency, his strength and his will, makes it so that once he believes in something, then he is going to accomplish it,” Chambers said. “That is the way we’ve all got to be—that if we believe in something, we must make sure we see it happen.”

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More often than not, Hudspeth was only one at the monument calling for its removal, but he still never gave up, Chambers said.

Hudspeth invited Chambers to Denton

Just as Denton County residents have Hudspeth to thank for the Confederate Memorial’s anticipated removal, members of Mount Calvary Baptist Church have him to thank for inviting Chambers to Denton.

Pastor Cedric Chambers poses for a photo inside Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Denton, Texas. (Photo by Jake King/ Reprinted with permission / Denton Record-Chronicle)

Chambers grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Dallas, where few children grew up with fathers, and families experienced challenging situations, he said.

Still, the West Dallas community supported each other and encouraged each other to move forward, he recalled.

Chambers received the call to ministry at age 15. Since that day in 1987, he has continued to preach every chance he gets.

He had served in ministry for 19 years when Hudspeth invited him to an interview regarding the Mount Calvary Baptist Church pastorate.

Once he was called to the Denton church, Chambers found a community where he could share what he had learned all his life, committing to the service of others.

“I have a passion to help and be a blessing to people,” Chambers said.

Denton African Americans still face challenges

The African American community in Denton is strong, he said. While most of his church members in Denton are getting up in years, they remain committed, he added.

But life in Denton is not easy for many African Americans, Chambers observed.

“It is something we live with everyday at the stores, in the workplace, in corporate life,” he said. “While some may be surprised that racism is still going on at the rate that it is, this is very much real.”

Even when people of other backgrounds may not see the oppression unless someone is killed, African-Americans continue to feel it, he added.

“It is systemic, and it is something we live with every day,” he said.

But removing a monument in honor of the Confederacy gives Mount Calvary and its pastor a sense that some are listening—that some recognize their pain.

“The fact that the statue is being removed does not fix everything, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Chambers said. “There can’t be any change without talking about the issue.”

And while others may start seeing the challenges members of his 66-year-old church have experienced for so long, Chambers also wants others to understand where their vision is.

‘Point people to Jesus’

Chambers recalled someone asking him how she could be angry at the injustice and oppression and still show the love of Jesus to others.

He remembers answering her question by saying, “It takes work, but I have to get a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross and how he died for everybody.”

While racism and oppression angers Chambers, he knows nobody here is perfect, and Jesus Christ loves every single one.

“It’s not that I’m not angry, but I do understand that if this is going to change, we’ve got to point people to Jesus Christ,” Chambers insisted.

Willie Hudspeth receives an award for his determination to see the Confederate statue taken down at a ‘Celebrate Willie’ gathering at the Square Sunday, June 14, 2020, in Denton, Texas. (Photo by Al Key/ Reprinted with permission / Denton Record-Chronicle)

In facing the oppression and the small mindedness of those who hate others for relatively minor differences, Christians must remember God gives hope and God can bring change, he said.

Chambers acknowledged the challenge of reminding his congregation of the hope Christ brings when they know every day comes with a possibility of suffering more or even losing their lives at the hands of intolerant people.

But while the world may look scary and dangerous, Chambers invites the church to look beyond what they see and remember God is working to bring redemption.

“It’s challenging to ask them to continue to trust and hold on because God will bring change,” Chambers added. “But that’s the only message we have, and that’s the one we want to keep.”

When churches avoid considering the pain and challenges of a person, then they will not be able to be in fellowship with people, he said.

“No longer can we just speak to the spiritual being of an individual. We’ve got to speak to the whole person,” he insisted. “In speaking to the whole person, you have to understand feeling, you have to understand pain, you have to understand hurt.”

Chambers noted churches still have a long road ahead of them.

But he finds reason for hope. Hudspeth’s work now is recognized by many. Last Sunday, a crowd gathered in downtown Denton to celebrate Hudspeth and give him an award for his dedication. Others started a fundraiser for him and his family, and some have suggested marking June 9 as “Willie Hudspeth Day.”

In the meantime, the memorial still stands, but the tireless efforts of Hudspeth and others have inspired African American organizations to continue planning protests in Denton on Juneteenth.

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