The Hamilton County Commission will vote on a resolution next week to remove and relocate the bust of Confederate Army Lt. Gen. Alexander Peter Stewart from the grounds of the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Commissioner Warren Mackey proposed the resolution and talked at length at Wednesday's meeting about how Confederate statues and memorials like the ones of Stewart and Chief John Ross honor men who fought against the flag to which Americans now recite the pledge of allegience.
"How many countries can we be loyal to?" Mackey asked the commission. "We pledge ourseles to this country and for what it stands."
Mackey compared Confederate soldiers to those who "turncoat" and leave the American military to fight for ISIS or the Taliban. The country today would never honor one of those soldiers with a statue or monument, so why honor the Confederates in that way, Mackey reasoned.
A resolution to remove the statue failed 6-2 in 2017. Now, with a slightly new group of commissioners, Commissioner Warren Mackey hopes to see change akin to Mississippi removing the Confederate flag from its state flag this summer.
"I'm trying to come to grips with our past, deal with it and move forward," Mackey said. "If Mississippi can get rid of the rebel flag, man, it'll start making Hamilton County look bad. Like we're staying in the past."
Martin took the other side of the argument, saying getting rid of Confederate statues plays into "cancel culture." He also pointed out Mackey's resolution did not give the commission the authority to remove the statue but the "authority rests with the state of Tennessee and the vetting of its historical commission."
Martin also asked if the cross would have to be removed from public spaces in the future, worrying what the precedent would be of removing or relocating Confederate statues.
"I'm not an apologist for the Old South," Martin said. "They lost. Southern states and men like A.P. Stewart were simply trying to fulfill what they believed was the vision of George Washington for a new republic. They were loyal to their individual states more than the collective states."
Last week, an online petition with around 1,100 signatures was presented to the commission, calling for the removal of a statue honoring Stewart — a Confederate general who later served as commissioner of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park — which is placed prominently outside of the old Hamilton County Courthouse on Georgia Avenue.
"I ask each of you, is it possible in these troubled times to move from divisiveness to mutual respect? Is it possible to move from exclusiveness to inclusiveness?" Betsy Darken, a former professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who began the petition, asked the commission. "Can we become a more harmonious community? The bust of Gen. A.P. Stewart is divisive and exclusive.
"We are asking you to relocate this bust to show respect for all of our citizens, to include all of us in what is honored in public spaces."
While Stewart reportedly never supported slavery, dozens of speakers have given prepared statements pleading for the commission to remove the statue, citing the white supremacist values of the cause for which he fought.
Mackey summarized his points by saying the country should "honor Americans who have fought and defended this country, not people who have tried to overthrow and kill other Americans."
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.
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