The Chattanooga chapter of the NAACP has announced a new tentative date for its peace walk and prayer vigil to call for the removal of a confederate statue from the front of the Hamilton County Courthouse.
The event is now scheduled for Oct. 1 from 5-7 p.m., beginning at the corner of Market Street and M.L. King Boulevard (next to Miller Plaza) and ending at the courthouse on Georgia Avenue. The previous date was changed because of Ironman Chattanooga taking place the same weekend.
"We wanted that competition to go as planned, and we wanted a different date where the city and county police and sheriff's department wouldn't be so overwhelmed," said NAACP Chattanooga President Elenora Woods.
The walk's purpose has expanded to address several causes in addition to the Confederate statue removal. Woods said they will be calling for education reform, better housing and legislation to protect DACA recipients.
"This is not just for black folks; this is for everybody," she said. "This is going to be something that we all can be proud of as we walk together, hand-in-hand, black sisters and brothers, white sisters and brothers, Hispanic, Jewish, whatever nationality you come from, we want you to be a part of this event."
Woods said a petition for the statue's removal has gained 2,000 signatures so far.
"We do everything decent and in order," Woods said. "We are not going to be out agitating anybody. We have rules. We will have a period of time before the march where we will give all the dos and don'ts."
Jennifer Woods, NAACP education chairwoman, said she would like to see a monument recognizing Ed Johnson's attorney in place of the bust of Alexander P. Stewart, a Confederate lieutenant general, who "didn't believe in slavery," according to Stewart's biographer, Sam Elliott.
Johnson was a black man who was lynched from the Walnut Street bridge by a local mob, despite the Supreme Court issuing a stay of execution. One of his two attorneys, Noah Parden, was the first African-American to argue as lead counsel before the United States Supreme Court. It was the first and only time the Supreme Court held a criminal trial. Johnson's conviction for the rape of a white woman was overturned almost 100 years later.
"When you're talking about justice, to me, the things he did in the time period he did he made an impact by going to the supreme court and winning the case as an African-American," Jennifer Woods said. "I think that's a much more worthy issue to celebrate in the city of Chattanooga."
Although the petition to remove the Confederate bust is gaining traction, not everyone is happy with that idea. In fact, many voices on social media are calling for the statue to be left where it is. Most comments left on one Facebook discussion asked the same question, "Why is this an issue now?"
In a Times Free Press poll asking readers if they think Stewart's statue should stay at the courthouse, an overwhelming 449 votes out of 571 were in favor of it staying.
Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd said he thinks there are more pressing matters than "to worry about covering up our history."
"There's so much bad history in Tennessee," he said. "The Civil War is just one little piece of it."
Boyd pointed to several other ways Confederates are honored throughout the state, including Jackson County, named after Andrew Jackson.
"We're going to change the name of Jackson County?" he asked. "I mean, come on, where does it stop?"
As for the prospect of replacing Stewart's bust on the courthouse lawn, Boyd said he is "not going to be for that."
"The Tennessee Historical Commission, let them make the ruling," he said. "If the statue is removed from the courthouse lawn, I'm in favor of not having any more memorials or statues placed back on the lawn."
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.