Cooper: Keeping the peacemaker

Cooper: Keeping the peacemaker

September 29th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

The bust of Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart is seen outside of the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

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Thanks to the 2016 Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, an impulsive, emotional overreaction to the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn bust of former Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart has been prevented — for now.

The year-old law removes a local government's authority to tinker with historic monuments, placing such decisions in the hands of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck introduced a resolution at the county commission meeting Wednesday seeking the state group's permission to remove the bust.

The resolution was introduced following a demand weeks ago by local NAACP President Elenora Woods that the likeness be removed. That demand was made in the midst of a sudden rush to rid the South of all monuments and other traces of the Confederacy and its place in the Civil War.

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A marker dedicated to the founding of the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, located on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn.

A marker dedicated to the founding of the...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

What the NAACP apparently didn't know at the time, and perhaps has not made itself aware of today, is that the bust of Stewart was erected because of his service as a peacemaker. Stewart opposed slavery, did not own slaves and was not a significant battle figure. Instead, he was a resident commissioner during the preservation of Chickamauga Battlefield, which was created following an 1889 peace-making barbecue between veterans of both sides of the war. His supervisory role has been credited as significant in the park's opening.

If it weren't clear already, the fact the bust is only a pawn became evident earlier this week when the NAACP set a date to march from Miller Plaza to the courthouse to protest its existence.

The bust will be the cause célébre, but Woods said — oh, by the way — the group also will be calling for education reform, better housing and legislation to protect young, illegal immigrants.

During Wednesday's thankfully peaceful county commission discussion, relocating the bust was suggested, but the where of such relocation was nebulous, and replacing it with an equally controversial figure was mentioned. Meanwhile, Commissioner Tim Boyd suggested the lawn should remain "dedicated to the running of the government."

Commissioner Greg Martin quite correctly wondered if the sudden rush to judgment about the statue would make "the God-haters" equally anxious to have an historic marker removed from the courthouse lawn that noted the land was once the home of First Baptist Church of Chattanooga.

If Beck's resolution is to go forward, it will have to be voted on, so the commission will have to deal with the issue again. For now, though, it's apparent such a removal proposal is only favored by a small vocal minority and is not, as Beck suggested, "the [sentiment] of the general public across the cultural divide."

Until it is, the peacemaker should stay in place.

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