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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Mayor Tim Kelly addresses the crowd after being sworn in during the One Chattanooga inauguration ceremony at the Tivoli Theatre on Monday, April 19, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tim Kelly was sworn in as the 66th mayor of Chattanooga.

We were in the kitchen cooking. Tuesday night. My wife read the news on her phone.

"They convicted him," she said.

I wasn't sure they would. Others, just as guilty, had walked free.

So, I'd guarded my heart, assuming the worst.

Yet 12 ordinary Americans, called forth under civic duty and placed in the spotlight of history, saw the murder of George Floyd clearly.

Derek Chauvin, guilty.

Notice this feeling. Notice the rightness of it.

I don't know if this is justice or simply a just moment, but whatever it is, wrong was met with right. Lies were met with truth. A knee to the neck was met with handcuffs.

As Chauvin was led away to prison, much of America was released from one.

This is truth.

It can set us free.

From delusion, rage, guilt, internal and societal alienation.

Truth restores our relationship. Truth sets whatever has crashed to the floor back upright again.

For many, this verdict felt like a truth was finally being told.

For others, it was a reminder of the truths still waiting.

"We cried," one friend said. "For Maxine."

Maxine Cousin was a Black Chattanoogan, a veteran, a TVA employee with a master's degree in education.

She was also a civil and human rights activist, helping create Concerned Citizens for Justice.

One November night in 1983, Chattanooga police arrested her father, Wadie Suttles. Police found him asleep in his car near the Fifth Street bus station. Told him to wake up, move on. Reports say Suttles became verbally abusive, leaving his car, walking away, the officer following.

Suttles was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Days later, Suttles, still in the Chattanooga City Jail, suffered a traumatic head wound.

He died.

He was 66.

Cousin spent decades of her life trying to uncover the truth of her father's death. The official statement said Suttles leapt from his bed, striking his head on the concrete floor.

Cousin believed he was murdered. She undertook her own investigation. She went to the Department of Justice. The U.S. Attorney General. The United Nations.

Boxes of files covered her living room floor. She had official letters from Washington stating the circumstances of her father's death.

In those letters, certain sentences are redacted.

"The information in our file," one DOJ letter reads, "indicates that in all likelihood the person responsible for Mr. Suttles's death was "

The rest of the sentence is blacked out.

The truth, untold.

"I feel like I'm in prison. And have been for 30 years," she said to me in 2013. "A life sentence."

Cousin died in 2018.

I quietly grieved that the search for truth of her father's death also died with her.

Then, I heard Tim Kelly's speech.

It was Monday, inauguration day for Kelly, our city's next mayor. There in the Tivoli Theater, he delivered a seven-minute speech. Thanking past mayors, he also mentioned three other Chattanoogans by name.

"Our city has been shaped by everyday Chattanoogans, who stepped up to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called 'the fierce urgency of now'," he said. "This is a city shaped by the legacy of civil rights leaders. Incredible leaders like Styles Hutchins, Maxine Cousin and Rep. Tommie Brown."

Hutchins was the lawyer who defended Ed Johnson, the Black man lynched by a white mob from our Walnut Street bridge. For taking this case, Hutchins was run out of Chattanooga, his office stoned and life threatened by violent whites.

Dr. Tommie Brown is the legendary public servant and former state representative. Beloved by many, she has a downtown school named in her honor.

But Cousin?

She was an outspoken Black radical. No buildings will be named in her honor.

And Kelly, in his first official speech, mentioned her, lovingly, by name.

And, by extension, brought forth the memory of her father.

It was a remarkable moment, loaded with implications and possibilities. Does Kelly realize the layers of healing City Hall could encourage with such a search for truth?

My heart is guarded.

But, yes, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing. In his first speech, Kelly told the truth.

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

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David Cook
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