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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Mary Lambert, director of community health for the city of Chattanooga, sets up a sign that reads "Free COVID Vaccinations No Appointment Required" at the corner of Moss drive just outside Eastdale Community Center on July 14.

Note: This column was updated on Jan. 2 to correct the person whose family descendants attended the Ed Johnson Memorial dedication.

Is this the year our Confederate statue finally comes down?

The bust of Gen. Alexander P. Stewart has stood for far too long on our county courthouse lawn. This is a man who, according to his biographer, held a "visceral belief in the inferiority of people of African descent and distaste for Blacks' being on an equal footing with whites."

Why is such a statue still standing?

Is this the year the federal government finally completes its investigation into Blake Kilpatrick?

In 2018, the Hamilton County sheriff's detective was filmed on video beating a handcuffed Black man. The U.S. Department of Justice began to investigate.

Why has it taken three years?

Will the investigation widen to include Sheriff Jim Hammond, who has been repeatedly called upon to resign?

In 2022, we will elect a new county mayor? Three candidates are running.

Who will be the fourth?

Or the fifth, sixth and seventh?

Last spring, Chattanooga saw 15 citizens on its ballot for city mayor.

Why does the county, with nearly 200,000 more citizens, only have three candidates running?

As we enter 2022, there are so many questions.

How do we grieve?

How do we heal?

What is our new normal?

How do we thank those who have risked so much?

Like Dr. Kelly Arnold and her staff at Clinica Medicos, who have modeled for us a pandemic response epitomized by perseverance, generosity and selflessness.

And our front-line nurses and doctors.

And our postal workers, who quietly go about their work with dignity, faithfulness and precision.

They are effective — nearly 97% of shipments were on time during the holidays, according to The Associated Press — and loving. How many widows and shut-in folks did they check on during COVID-19? How many folks — who otherwise had no one — were greeted each day with postal-worker kindness? Are they not also the embodiment of a first-responder?

When I look back on 2020, there are many significant moments, yet two stand out.

In March, three months after testing positive for COVID-19, I was vaccinated.

So are thousands of you.

It is difficult to put into words the marvelous ingenuity of the human mind that has offered our planet a vaccine; there is thrilling potential around such science, for it carries, as one doctor told me, the potential to cure certain cancers.

The second moment?

The installation of the Ed Johnson Memorial.

On Sept. 19, our city unveiled a memorial dedicated to Johnson, lynched by a white mob more than a century ago from our Walnut Street Bridge, and the Black lawyers who fought for him, Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins. The day was years in the making.

How can we adequately thank those responsible — members of the Ed Johnson Committee — for their immeasurable work?

Besides Montgomery, I know of no other American city that has addressed its lynching history with such honesty and care.

"If we can do it, the rest of the nation can do it," proclaimed Donivan Brown, chair of the Ed Johnson Project.

That suggests Chattanooga holds a map for how other communities can address and atone for racial violence of yesteryear. There is healing latent within communities.

But you can't hide from it.

"If the truth is going to set us free, we must recognize first the lies that hold us," the Rev. Charlotte Williams proclaimed that weekend.

Mayor Tim Kelly offered an official apology. Descendants of Parden's family were there. Eddie Glaude Jr. spoke with such power and truth.

"The answer to the riddle of America resides in the South," he said.

Since its installation, people near and far have visited the memorial, praying, contemplating, walking quietly.

The memorial is becoming the spiritual center of our city.

On the night of his murder, Ed Johnson offered a dying prayer: "God bless you all. I am a innocent man."

During the installation weekend, I heard those words again for the first time. It was as if Johnson, with his dying breath, was pointing to some spiritual truth, that in this city there is a spiritual lock whose tumblers would never move until our hearts did first. Lynching cursed us; God's blessing would be forever stalled or blocked until we learned to repent.

Now, a century later, the avenues of our hearts are opening.

We can begin to receive God's blessing.

And Ed Johnson can rest.

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

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