Chattanooga joins cities across nation grappling with Confederate reminders [photos]

A bust of Confederate Gen. Alexander P. "Old A.P." Stewart is seen outside of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday, Aug. 16, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Confederate monuments across the country are being removed in the wake of a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., but a statue of Confederate Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart remains on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn.

Leaders of the Chattanooga chapter of the NAACP said in July they would be imploring the Hamilton County Commission to remove the statue, arguing it is a painful monument that has no business being next to the courthouse.

"If you want to have good race relations in the community, you need to remove those barriers, and they are barriers," said Elenora Woods, president of the Chattanooga NAACP.

The issue of Confederate memorials in public places was thrust back into a national spotlight Saturday after a fatal demonstration in Charlottesville over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

A female counterprotester was killed when a car rammed into a crowd of pedestrians and two state police officers died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the protest by white nationalists.

Nationally, more than 1,500 publicly supported spaces are dedicated to the Confederacy, according to an unofficial count by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They include 718 monuments and statues - roughly 300 in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia alone; 109 public schools; 80 counties or cities; 10 U.S. military bases; and nine Confederate holidays celebrated by six states.

Woods said she is organizing community meetings to discuss removing the statue of Stewart and to raise public support.

"The Confederate statues were placed during the time Jim Crow was in place," she said. "These monuments went up all over the South and it was basically to say, 'We may have lost the war, but we're going to remind you all that this is what we believe.'

"Would anyone in the Jewish community like to see Adolf Hitler statues everywhere? No. We don't have room for hatred in this community."

Several county commissioners said Wednesday there had been no official discussion of the issue and expressed mixed feelings about the idea of its removal.

Violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Commissioner Tim Boyd said Stewart wasn't a slave owner and instead fought for the Confederacy in defense of states' rights.

"I don't support removing any memorial anywhere in the county. Not just that one, any of them," he said. "This whole issue has gotten way out of hand."

He said some of the founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves, but Boyd hasn't seen the same furor over memorials and monuments connected to them.

"This is a much bigger issue than just a statue sitting on the lawn," he said. "This is stupidity on the public's part and the media's part by focusing on moving monuments."

Commissioner Greg Beck said his feelings on its removal were "neither here nor there," but he argued that if it remained it could serve as a reminder to residents about the folly of conflict like the Civil War.

"If it stays there it's a monument to the inability to compromise and also it intends to speak a message that 628,000 people lost their lives over an issue they could not find a resolution to," he said.

"The Civil War is not anything America needs to be proud of. We lost lives and they killed each other over an issue."

Early Wednesday morning in Baltimore, four Confederate monuments were hauled away on trucks in the darkness to avoid attention, according to The Associated Press.

"It's done," said Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. "They needed to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could."

Pugh said Monday she had been in talks with contractors to remove the monuments, but she declined to give details in an effort to prevent clashes between demonstrators.

Leaders of a New York Episcopal Diocese also pledged to remove two plaques honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a church property in Brooklyn on Wednesday.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy markers commemorate the spot where he is said to have planted a tree while serving in the U.S. Army at Fort Hamilton in New York in the 1840s. He became commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia two decades later.

Closer to home, Birmingham, Ala., Mayor William Bell ordered a 52-foot Confederate monument in a downtown park be covered with wooden panels Tuesday.

But by Wednesday, Alabama's Attorney General Steve Marshall sued the city, saying the mayor's actions violated the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. State legislators in Alabama passed a law earlier this year prohibiting the removal of memorials, including Confederate memorials.

In Knoxville, a 1914 monument honoring fallen Confederate soldiers was splattered with paint Wednesday, and opponents were signing a petition to have it removed from a neighborhood near the University of Tennessee campus.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest should be removed from Tennessee's state Capitol and put in a museum.

"This is a state issue and not something that I am involved in, but if I were in the General Assembly I would vote to remove his bust from the actual Capitol where our ideals of a state are debated," Corker said.

"I would support removing those type of historic symbols that are contentious to our people and putting them in museums, not in places where our ideals are lifted up."

Woods said she is confident the statue of Stewart will eventually be removed from the courthouse lawn, adding she believes it is God's will to see it moved.

"It is God's divine plan and God's divine will. It's not about me and it's not about Chattanooga. It's about God," she said.

"Build a big museum and put them all in there."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@times or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.