ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hamilton County Engineering and Facilities Maintenance superintendent Scott Vandergriff pressure washes the bust of Confederate Lt. Gen. Alexander P. "Old A.P." Stewart outside of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The statue was vandalized during protests against the killing of George Floyd.

Several years ago, we were named the Most Bible-Minded City in America. So, tell me:

Would Christ support a Confederate statue on our courthouse lawn?

Would Moses? The man who led his beloved people out of bondage and into freedom?

Do we as believers pray to a God who salutes and commemorates human slavery? Or a God who liberates his children out of oppression and hate?

Last year, we were named one of the best cities to start a business. So, tell me:

Is having a Confederate general statue on our public lawn good for attracting business?

When the Chamber of Commerce solicits industry from around the globe — Move here! Look at Enterprise South! Our beautiful downtown! — do they include the statue of Gen. A.P. Stewart in their tour of the city? Are they proud of it?

Or embarrassed?

In June, 19 corporate leaders signed a full-page ad pledging to "promote racial justice and equality in our beloved Chattanooga."

"We condemn racism in any form, and we're committed to taking action," they promised.

Kenco. DeFoor Brothers. CBL Properties. PlayCore. Wacker. Unum. Southern Champion. VW. BlueCross BlueShield.

Do you believe in the continued public devotion to a Confederate general?

Do you believe Blacks are inferior? Worth less than whites?

Because Gen. Stewart did.

He held a "visceral belief in the inferiority of people of African descent and distaste for blacks' being on an equal social footing with whites," wrote biographer Sam Davis Elliott in "Soldier of Tennessee."

On Wednesday, 10 county residents — veterans, historians, Christian professors, retired electricians — presented testimonies and a 1,100-name petition to the county mayor and commissioners calling for the removal of Stewart's statue. (The meeting can be seen on Youtube).

"I grew up in Chattanooga," declared Jean Smith, a Black woman. "Why would the county of my birth seek to proudly and prominently display the bust of a supporter of the Confederate states whose mission was to maintain people who look like me in a state of perpetual enslavement?"

In 1919, the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the monument as part of a coordinated Lost Cause strategy. ("All will stand for what the heroes of the Confederacy stood," someone declared at the monument's dedication.)

"The bust of General A.P. Stewart certainly represents a part of the history of this county, not only the Civil War, but also the Jim Crow era of violence, intimidation, segregation and disenfranchisement," Kevin Burton told the commission. "It is indeed part of our heritage — but it is the ugliest part. Seek reconciliation, commissioners. Move the bust from the spotlight."

Dr. Darrell Walsh is a Black veteran who served 31 years in the US Army.

"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the continuing war on terrorism are being fought by a racially diverse group of men and women who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country," he said.

What message does he receive when he walks the courthouse lawn?

"The presence of this Confederate statue alienates our diverse service members who are actively engaged in protecting our nation," he said.

Lunard Lewis — veteran, a father of four and retired electrician — asked the commission not just for the statue's removal, but its replacement.

"One that does not represent the enslavement of my ancestors and their subsequent disenfranchisement after the war, but one that better represents the greatness of our city, county and state," he said.

Initially, Lewis was skeptical of this idea; he did not want to participate in a "knee-jerk reaction" to tearing down historical statues.

"But when I was told that the erection of the statue was funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, I had no doubt that it never should have been put up in the first place," he said.

I know these are tough times. So many are confused, exhausted, angry.

Thankfully, the county mayor and commission have before them a powerful opportunity to reverse some of that anger and confusion.

Removing the statue would create goodwill, heal some racial wounds, morally advance us out of 1919 and into 2020.

"Is it possible in these troubled times to move from divisiveness to mutual respect?" asked Dr. Betsy Darken, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor and petition organizer. "From exclusiveness to inclusiveness? Can we become a more harmonious community?"

Do not ask a Black commissioner to do this.

Let white commissioners lead the way.

"We are asking you to move this bust to show respect to all of our citizens," Darken said. "To include all of us in what is honored in public spaces."

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

some text
David Cook
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT