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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ General A.P. Stewart's statue during the Hamilton County celebration of its 200th birthday on the courthouse steps, October 25, 2019.

This story was revised at 3:25 p.m. on Oct. 7 to correct the employment status of former UTC professor Betsy Darken.

Hundreds of citizens are asking the Hamilton County Commission to remove the statue of a Confederate general from the courthouse lawn, citing a petition with more than 1,000 signatures.

In a news release, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor says she and other citizens will ask the commission on Wednesday to remove the statue of Gen. A.P. Stewart at the old county courthouse on Georgia Avenue, calling the figure "divisive and exclusive."

"This Confederate monument is offensive to many Americans, especially Black Americans, because it hearkens back to slavery and the Civil War, it is rooted in the prolonged Jim Crow era of white supremacy, lynchings, and segregation, and it reflects the continuing presence of racism, conscious or unconscious, in our own times," former math professor Betsy Darken wrote about the petition, which had just over 1,100 signatures as of Tuesday.

"We recognize that others see this Confederate monument differently. Some have ancestors who died in that long-ago war, which included soldiers who did not own slaves and were fighting to protect their land and their families. Some see the monument as the embodiment of Southern heritage. And some see it as a rallying point for white supremacy," Darken wrote. "The latter is hardly surprising since the preservation of slavery was at the heart of the Confederacy. Southerners have much in our history to be proud of, but white supremacy is not something to take pride in."

Darken posted the petition on Change.org to remove the statue this summer after it was vandalized during protests downtown against police brutality and racial injustice, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

(READ MORE: Confederate statue will be restored after weekend George Floyd protests in Chattanooga)

The County Commission has not yet heard the plea from this group, but a slightly different group of commissioners voted 6-2 to keep the statue in 2017, when the local NAACP chapter raised the issue most recently.

Stewart's statue has been outside of the courthouse for just over a century, since the local Daughters of the Confederacy chapter that takes its name from Stewart helped install the statue in 1919, seven years after the courthouse was built, according to newspaper archives.

Confederate monuments in the South have been targeted by groups promoting racial justice.

Stewart is said to have opposed slavery. But he fought for the Confederacy, taking issue with Northern states that were 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 Chattanooga attorney Sam Davis Elliott.

Stewart — who was originally from Rogersville, Tennessee — after the war 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.

Chris Dooley, a retired United States Air Force colonel and veterans advocate, asked commissioners to save Stewart's bust the last time the issue came up.

"This may be somebody we may not need to throw away in the dust heap, so nobody comes and sees him, but someone we ought to hold up," Dooley said, speaking of how Stewart's role at the military park helped the nation heal and reconcile after the Civil War.

The commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, remotely and viewable on YouTube.

In Tennessee, decisions to remove or alter statues and other monuments to historical figures must get a two-thirds majority approval by the Tennessee Historical Commission, per the Heritage Protection Act of 2016.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

 

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