Hamilton County crews worked Monday to repair damage to county property that occurred over the weekend during a series of protests against police brutality. Included in the damage was spray paint covering the base of the statue of Confederate Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart outside the Hamilton County Courthouse.
The Rev. Charlotte Williams, vice chair of the Unity Group, which fights for African American representation, said that while she would like to see the statue ultimately removed, the bust of Stewart represents a deeper problem that needs to be addressed.
"Sure, we want all those statues down, but the hatred that has been displayed for the last 400 years is not because of just symbols," Williams said. "It's in the people's hearts and minds."
Protesters spray painted a large X over the inscription at the base of the statue, which displayed Stewart's name along with "C.S.A. 1861-1865," signifying the years he served the Confederate States of America.
The demonstrators were protesting the death of George Floyd, an African American, under the knee of a white Minnesota police officer.
The statue has been contentious in the city for years. In 2017, the local chapter of the NAACP began an effort to have the statue removed. Later that year, the Hamilton County Commission voted 6-2 to keep it outside the courthouse.
Stewart, who was born in Rogersville, Tennessee, fought for the Confederacy in the Battle of Chickamauga and the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863, then battles near Nashville the following year.
After the war, Stewart became the chancellor of the University of Mississippi and later was the commissioner of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park for nearly 20 years before his death in 1908.
The general opposed slavery, yet fought for the Confederacy because he felt Northern states were acting unconstitutionally by not enforcing fugitive slave laws that said black Americans were considered property and had to be returned to slavery if they escaped to a free state, according to a 1999 biography of Stewart by Sam Davis Elliott.
A local Daughters of the Confederacy chapter named after Stewart helped install the statue in 1919, seven years after the courthouse was built.
Protesters over the weekend in Chattanooga also damaged a nearby fountain and several light fixtures. Hamilton County sheriff's deputies arrested three people in relation to the damage, according to a news release. On Monday, Hamilton County spokesperson Mike Dunne said crews are working to repair the damage.
Williams said the statue being cleaned will not stop the progress made this weekend in organizing residents against police brutality.
"If they want to clean it, fine. If they don't, fine," she said. "That's not going to stop the people from moving forward."
As protests continue throughout the country over the death of Floyd, Confederate statues have become targets as symbols of violence against black people. During protests in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, monuments to the Confederacy were also tagged with spray paint by protesters.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.