Before dawn Thursday morning, crews began taking down the Confederate monument at the Denton Courthouse-on-the-Square - where it stood since 1918.
For the last 21 years, Willie Hudspeth, a retired school educator, protested for the statue’s removal. Early Thursday morning, he raced out of bed to watch the monument come down.
“It meant a lot to me,” Hudspeth told NBC 5.
“God has been telling me we’ve got to come together,” Hudspeth added. “Now, in 2020, let’s start really working on coming together.”
Since 1999, Hudspeth spent most Sunday afternoons protesting in front of the Confederate monument. He became a regular at Denton County Commissioners Court meetings and advocated for the removal of the monument.
For many of those years, Hudspeth recalled protesting alone. He said he hopes his story serves as a lesson that one person can help spark a change.
“We don’t have to worry about him, it’s just one black man. It’ll never happen,” Hudspeth recalled. “Then, they drove away with the rest of the statue.”
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In a news release, Denton County wrote the Confederate Memorial was removed for public safety reasons – referencing the destruction of other Confederate monuments around the country.
According to the county, the monument is in storage until the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Art Committee makes a recommendation to Denton County Commissioners about its future.
The county said it intends to use the monument for “educational and historical purposes” at another Denton County location – under the direction of the Texas Historical Commission.
As crews began the 10-hour process of removing the monument early Thursday morning, word began to spread on social media.
Photographer Jonathan Chisum took his gear to the square to record the moment and Hudspeth’s reaction.
“It was written all over his face that he was very relieved, but also very aware that there’s a lot left to do and that this is just one step in the journey,” Chisum told NBC 5.
“He’s been trying and trying and trying. It was really beautiful to me to see that payoff - at least one step in the right direction,” Chisum added.
Two weeks ago, after Denton County Judge Andy Eads announced the monument would be moved, Hudspeth was cautiously optimistic. At the time, he told NBC 5 that he wouldn’t truly believe it until it was gone.
“I’ve been really worried, as I talked to you before, about if it was really going to happen,” Hudspeth said.
Now that it has been moved, Hudspeth said he will be watching to see what officials do with the monument.
Hudspeth said he’s also focusing his activism on three more causes: ending human trafficking, increasing voter turnout and tackling crime.
“This is not about the statue now. This is the American way: get involved in your local politics,” said Hudspeth. “I go to the school board meetings, I go to the city council meetings, and I go to the county meetings and I will continue to do that.”