Protest and Celebration Converge at Civil-War Themed “Old South Ball”
Photo by Michelle Hershberger
By Clara McMichael
It was twilight outside the Williamson County Courthouse as Georgetown residents in sweeping Civil War-era dresses and starched uniforms entered the building for the “Old South Ball: A Civil War Soiree. This event was put on by the Williamson County Museum in coordination with their Civil War exhibit, Courage & Contradiction: Civil War Stories of Williamson County.
Meanwhile, Georgetown community members and Southwestern students assembled with signs in protest of the event bearing slogans such as “History Not Hatred,” and “Plantation life is not a ball!” As the evening progressed, the protesters marched silently around the courthouse.
Protest against the ball began with the circulation of a petition started by Positive Change for Georgetown, a group founded by community member Dr. Sherwin Kahn, who also organized the protest on Saturday night. The petition asked the Williamson County Museum board and director to reconsider the event, and currently has 277 signatures.
“When you say ‘Southern ball,’ what you mean is a white Southern ball because you’re talking about a white plantation or a white household that has all this money to put on this event because of the economic advantages of enslaving people,” senior Katherine Protil said.
The protest marked watershed in recent Georgetown history, where many say that the town has never seen a demonstration like this before.
“For the first time, people in Georgetown are waking up and they’re participating,” Kahn said.
A major portion of the protesters came from Southwestern University. News about the protest circulated throughout Southwestern students, faculty, and campus organizations including the Southwestern Philosophy Society.
“We’re trying to demonstrate that what we discuss has a real world application, and to use what we’re learning in productive ways,” said Kenny Knowlton Jr., president of the Philosophy Society.
Mickie Ross, executive director of the Williamson County Museum, said she was aware that many of the protesters are from Southwestern, and emphasized the museum’s long partnership with the school.
Ross was surprised at the reaction to the ball. None of the other Civil War events scheduled in conjunction with the exhibit were protested. Furthermore, the museum’s Civil War programming was released in April 2015, but pushback to the Old South Ball only began in December of last year.
“I made a poor choice in the name of the event and I accept the responsibility for that,” Ross said, but emphasized that the museum was not trying to embrace or downplay the racism of the era by holding the ball.
Ross cited the different events celebrating diversity that the Williamson County has put on in the past, including a Juneteenth exhibit and participation in a local Martin Luther King Jr. march.
The museum has history trunks that go out to local schools and focus on different histories within Williamson County, including Hispanic heritage and the Civil War.
“We don’t have a whole lot of African Americans that are involved in what we’re doing,” Ross said when asked about the demographic that was expected to attend the Old South Ball. She added that this was the case for all exhibits and events that the museum puts on, including ones that focus on black history.
The museum frequently tries to engage people in a variety of ways to make history accessible for all people and all interests. The Old South Ball was one of the ways that the museum attempted to involve the community in their local history.
On Saturday night, protesters engaged in Georgetown’s history by pointing out ongoing issues, such as the placement and petition against a Confederate monument outside the courthouse, that highlight the town’s racial discrimination. Protesters said they were miles away from ending racism in Georgetown.
“I can promise you this is not done yet,” Kahn said.