Watch Texas judge defend keeping 'NEGROES' sign in courthouse then backslide when story goes viral
Every time Constable Curtis Polk Jr., the only Black elected official in his Texas county, went to work, he had to not only take stairs down to the basement, but also walk past the N-word plastered on a wall outside his shared office space and preserved as a historical sign. The word “NEGROES” was uncovered in a restoration project about 20 years ago, denoting a time in history when the county facilities were segregated down to the water fountains. But since the news and culture site Smash Da Topic Breaking News initially reported on the sign and the story went viral, the constable and a local judge announced that it has been covered and the constable moved to a private office.
It’s a real shame it took a social media firestorm for the county to realize keeping its only Black elected official in an office right outside a “NEGROES” sign wasn’t the best idea, but I guess I’ll have to take my good news wherever I can get it. Polk no longer has to see the sign every day to go to his office.
He had told The Dallas Morning News that thanks to a mass relocation project in the courthouse he got “the short end of the stick.” He said he typically wouldn’t have to come through the stairwell that is directly across from the sign, but the change meant he had to use the stairs to access the daily supplies he needs. “You can’t help but to notice it,” Polk said of the inflammatory language. “I’m frustrated, kind of hurt that this wasn’t thought out.”
Polk works in Ellis County, which has a population that is just less than 85% white and about 27% Hispanic. Black people account for less 13% of the population, according to the latest U.S. census figures.
“I felt kind of disrespected with this move by me being an elected official,” Polk told The Dallas Morning News, “because like I say all the other elected officials have a private office here in this county. I’m no better than them. They’re no better than me, so why can’t I be treated the same way that they’re being treated?”
County officials apparently determined, after being heavily scrutinized on social media of course, that he could be treated equally at least in this regard. “We came up with a solution that benefitted all, me him and the people of this county,” Constable Polk told CBS DFW in an interview also featuring Ellis County Judge Todd Little. The judge added: “We want to be peacemakers here in Ellis County. We want to do the right thing and we want our citizens to decide what’s right for our community.”
Little, however, had earlier defended keeping the sign Tuesday in a roundabout video explaining what city leaders could have been thinking. “About 20 years ago, when this historic structure was completely renovated in a manner true to the original architectural detail, a decision was made to keep the painted sign. Why did our previous leaders do this,” Little asked. “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.”
The judge later added: “I understand history is not a beacon of celebration for all people, but it provides a lesson on how we must continue to rise above adversity and come together to unite as one. I am saddened that Constable Polk has been hurt by this office relocation process. That was not the intent.”