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Landmark or land mine?

By Joshua Baethge
For the Anna-Melissa Tribune
Collin McKinney was instrumental in the founding of Texas as well as Collin and Grayson Counties.  He was also a slaveholder.

Anna leaders consider merits of Collin McKinney statue

In 2019 members of the historical preservation society presented the Anna City Council with a plan for them to gift the city a statue of local pioneer Collin McKinney.  Upon completion, it would be placed in Sherley Heritage Park. 

After some discussion, the Council passed a resolution accepting the statue and approving its location. Now, nearly two years later, the statue has been completed but its future home remains up in the air.

Collin McKinney is the namesake of both Collin County and the city of McKinney. He was the oldest person to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836 and was also on the committee that drafted the constitution for the Republic of Texas. He and his family were among the first settlers in what are today Collin and Grayson Counties. McKinney’s homestead in the area where Anna stands today seemingly makes the city an ideal location for the statue.

Collin McKinney, like many men of his time, was also a slaveowner. The statue made in his honor was ready to be installed last spring right around the time that George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officers prompted nationwide protests as well as a national reckoning on race. Faced with this tense environment, Anna City officials decided to hold-off on erecting the statue at that time.

Sherley Heritage Park, the proposed site of a Collin McKinney statue, has seen several new additions since the plan was approved in 2019.

In addition to uncertainty over how the statue will be received by the community, there is also the issue of what Sherley Heritage Ark has become.  It now boasts a community-built playground, a train depot, and the site of the city’s Christmas tree.  It will also soon be the home of a new locomotive honoring Anna’s railroad heritage.  This has led some to question whether the park remains the best place for a Collin McKinney tribute.

In order to gauge the feelings of Anna residents, the city sent out a short survey to get their perspective.  The council also asked the recently created Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee to review the issue and give their recommendation.

“We are trying to engage the community and have some thoughtful introspective conversations on what does putting up a statue of Collin McKinney looks like to the community,” Assistant City Manager Ryan Henderson said. “Does it become a divisive issue or something that we can all get around?”

One person who has come out strongly in favor of the statue is former councilman and current Planning & Zoning Commission member Alonzo Tutson, who is also African-American. During the December city council meeting, he said the time to erect the statue was now.

Tutson says his stance on the matter is based on feedback from descendants of McKinney, who had both white and black children. He says that both sides of the family want to see the statue made a reality.  Black descendants say that McKinney treated their forefathers just as well as his white children. As proof of this, they cite the fact that he left them a sizable amount of land directly east of what today is downtown McKinney. This was done in 1861, well before the Civil War and the end of slavery.

“I understand that there are a lot of issues regarding statues all over America and particularly throughout the South, but this statue to me and to several others is very unique due to who Collin McKinney was,” Tutson said. “Collin McKinney, for the era in which he lived, was very progressive.”

According to Tutson, many history books fail to mention the achievements that African Americans were able to accomplish on the land McKinney left to his black descendants. Much of the area east of Highway 5 in the city of McKinney was once a self-sufficient and successful black community. Many direct descendants of Collin McKinney still call the area home today.

What Tutson would like to see is for the statue to be placed in the park, and with it, a picture of both his white and black descendants standing together. 

“At the top, label it ‘Descendants of Collin McKinney,’ and when people black and white see that photograph next to that statue, I guarantee you that statue will not be torn down, it will not be defaced and it will not be vandalized,” he says. 

The Anna Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee will discuss the statue and solicit community feedback during its March meeting. Their report and recommendations will then be sent to the city council who will ultimately be tasked with making a final decision.