Signal Mountain Town Manager and former police chief Boyd Veal is asking that the town remove a monument of founder C.E. James and rename the park dedicated in James' honor. Veal made the request after discovering in deeds for property transfers from the Mountain Land Co., operated by James and his family members, that James planned the town as "a community set apart for residential purposes for the white race," according to the deeds.
"We've had this reputation [of racism] up here for as long as I've been alive," said Veal, a third-generation Signal Mountain resident. "It turns out [that reputation] was earned, and we need to do something to earn our way past it."
Veal said it is unclear exactly which property or properties within the town the deeds are for, but he came across them while researching town records and found several restrictions within them.
Among them is a restriction that prohibits sale, lease or other transfer of the property to any "negro, mulatto or other person of color." The deeds also stipulate that if this or other restrictions are violated by the grantee or their successors, ownership of the property would revert back to the grantor or their successors.
Veal said these types of restrictions were not uncommon in other places during the period of the development of the town, which celebrated its centennial last year. The Supreme Court since has ruled such restrictions are not enforceable, he said.
"How can we honor what amounts to a business venture and the man responsible for it when we know that racism was a prominent driving force behind it? I can't even begin to fathom a discussion in which I legitimately explained to my grandchildren how that is acceptable," Veal told council members at their July 27 meeting, reading from a letter he previously sent them requesting removal of the James monument and the renaming of James Park.
"This park serves as our welcome mat, and the history it currently represents is in direct conflict with that role. Everyone who enters our town, resident or visitor, should be greeted by a park that represents a community no longer weakened by unjust exclusion, but strengthened by commitment to unity."
Mayor Dan Landrum said he would prefer to listen to citizens' response to Veal's request for a couple of weeks rather than give his opinion at the July 27 meeting.
"Boyd's letter speaks boldly and eloquently for itself," Landrum wrote in an email in response to a request for comment. "I'll have an opportunity to contribute to the conversation at our Aug. 10 meeting along with my fellow councilors. Until then, I'm in listening mode."
Councilman Bill Lusk suggested adding the James monument removal and park renaming as an item of discussion to the agenda for the council's Aug. 10 meeting. He also suggested the council have a broader discussion on the names of all of the town's parks and whether they should be changed to be more representative of the town as it is now.
Contact Emily Crisman at [email protected] or 423-757-6508.