'Negroes' sign covered up after Texas LEO speaks out

Const. Curtis Polk Jr. voiced concern after he was moved to a shared office near the segregation-era sign, making him the only elected official in the county to not have a private office


By Kaley Johnson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

ELLIS COUNTY, Texas — A segregation-era "Negroes" sign in the Ellis County courthouse was covered up after an Ellis County constable, the only Black person and Democrat serving in an elected position in the county, was moved to a shared basement office near the sign.

Curtis Polk Jr. was elected as constable for precinct 3 in Ellis County in 2018. On Nov. 3, the county commissioners court voted to make changes to the Historical County Courthouse to make room for the County Treasurer's Office, according to a social media post from Polk that was first shared by Smash Da Topic Breaking News on Monday. After the adjustments were complete, Polk was given an office space with two sheriff deputies in the basement of the courthouse. This made him the only elected official in the county without a private office.

On Wednesday morning, Polk met with County Judge Todd Little to discuss his office situation, said Jana Lynne Sanchez, Polk's friend and fellow politician who first drew national attention to Polk's story. Little agreed to cover up the sign and move Polk to one of his own offices, Little and Polk said in a livestreamed press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Ellis County Constable Precinct 3 Curtis Polk Jr. poses for a photo at the Ellis County Courthouse in Waxahachie, Texas, on Monday, Nov. 17, 2020.
Ellis County Constable Precinct 3 Curtis Polk Jr. poses for a photo at the Ellis County Courthouse in Waxahachie, Texas, on Monday, Nov. 17, 2020. (Lynda M. González/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

"It was good to work together to move forward," Polk said during the livestream. "Once me and the judge sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk, he saw fit to give me this office, which is one of his offices, and he was willing to make things right."

The future of the sign will be decided by the Ellis County Historical Society, Little said.

During Wednesday's livestream, Little said the office changes in the courthouse were because officials have outgrown the facility and they meant no disrespect to Polk. But he admitted the adjustments "were not well thought out."

"Curtis just happened to be on the short straw and it was not well thought out," he said. "And we have now made amends to Curtis."

The sign

Sanchez tweeted about Polk's office change on Monday, which had another major problem besides the lack of space — to get to his new office, Polk has to walk past a sign painted on the wall that says "Negroes" in faded black and yellow letters.

The sign once hung above a water fountain that was the only place Black people were permitted to drink while visiting the courthouse during the segregation-era. When the county renovated the courthouse, officials decided instead of covering the sign, they would commemorate it with a plaque "to say racism is not OK," Sanchez said.

The water fountain was removed 20 years ago, according to a video statement from Little. Officials decided to keep the sign and add a plaque below it as "a symbol, to pierce the hearts and souls of those who yearn for justice and equality for all," Little said in the statement.

"I would suggest the signage was kept, so the evil of requiring people of another color to drink at an alternate water fountain would never happen again," he said in a public statement.

Dannion McLendon takes a photo of the historical marker placed and sign that reads "NEGROES" at the Ellis County Courthouse in Waxahachie, Texas, on Monday, Nov. 17, 2020. 
Dannion McLendon takes a photo of the historical marker placed and sign that reads "NEGROES" at the Ellis County Courthouse in Waxahachie, Texas, on Monday, Nov. 17, 2020.  (Lynda M. González/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Polk told CBS DFW in a previous interview that while he understands the history behind the sign, "it's another disgrace for me to have to see it daily."

"He was pretty hurt," Sanchez said about Polk's reaction to the initial move. "He's been far more diplomatic and calm than I would be, but I know he does not feel that he was treated fairly."

The other issue with Polk's placement, Polk said in a post, was that he had to keep sensitive county documents in three different and unsecure locations, such as the basement stairwell. Polk bought a fireproof safe to try and keep important documents safe, he told the Dallas Morning News.

There were four constables who could have been moved to the shared office, and Sanchez questions why the all-white, Republican County Commissioners Court decided it should be given to Polk.

"I think their lack of sensitivity is reflective of the men who are serving in those positions, absolutely," Sanchez said. "I don't think it's reflective of the society as a whole. Most people in Ellis County are pretty appalled by this."

The Ellis County Democrats demanded that Ellis County leadership "remedy this situation now" in a Facebook post.

"Being an elected Democrat and African American in no way justifies this kind of treatment," the post said. "We call on County Judge Todd Little and other county leaders to fix this, issue an apology to Constable Polk, and ensure this kind of embarrassment never occurs again."

(c)2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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