Sohn: 'Old A.P.' would excuse himself from statue debate

Sohn: 'Old A.P.' would excuse himself from statue debate

September 29th, 2017 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A bust of Confederate Lt. Gen. Alexander P. "Old A.P." Stewart is seen outside of the Hamilton County Courthouse in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Related Article

Hamilton County commissioners talk about moving Confederate bust from courthouse

Read more

It's good to see the Hamilton County Commission discussing — yes, actually discussing — whether to remove the bust of Confederate Lt. Gen Alexander P. Stewart from the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn.

Commissioner Greg Beck introduced a resolution to seek the Tennessee Historical Commission's approval to relocate the statue, calling for the Hamilton County Courthouse to stand as "neutral ground."

"This resolution speaks to the sentiments of the general public across the cultural divide, and transcends even district lines and party lines," said Beck, who is black. "It presents this commission with a moment of greatness."

Of course, there seem to be as many different opinions about what should happen now as there are county commissioners — nine.

Related Article

March, prayer vigil set for Confederate statue's removal from Hamilton County Courthouse

Read more

Greg Martin says decisions made by 19th century Americans shouldn't be viewed through a 21st century lens: "I don't agree with his [Stewart's] religion, I don't agree with his politics and I certainly didn't agree with the war that he fought. But I do appreciate the general's service to the United States of America before and after the Civil War."

Tim Boyd says if the Confederate statue is removed, no other statue or memorial of any kind should take its place.

Commissioner Joe Graham asked for the commission to have more time to discuss the matter before it comes to a vote next Wednesday. "What bothers me about removing the bust, at least removing it right now, [is] I'm afraid we're letting our emotions react to what's going on in America around us."

This discussion is good. More is better. And when that discussion is done, action is best of all.

To be sure, the history of A.P. Stewart and how his statue wound up on our courthouse square is not as clear-cut as similar debates on Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forest — both slave owners.

Alexander "A.P." Stewart wasn't a Chattanooga son, nor did he embody the old slave-owning stereotype of the Confederacy (though his biographers say he steadfastly believed blacks were inferior). He did fight in the Battle of Chickamauga and most of the other major Civil War battles. But defenders of the statue say his main claim on that little dot of courthouse ground is that he was instrumental in the late 1890s and early 1900s — long after the war — in planning and creating the nation's first military park here. In doing so, he was part of an effort to mend our divides.

Here's the rub — or rubs: Two men were appointed civilian "commissioners" to create the park, a former Union man, Gen. Joseph S. Fullerton, and Stewart, a former Confederate. Years later, the local chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, also named for Stewart, paid for the statue and had it placed at the courthouse in 1919.

But there's no balancing statue of Fullerton there. Stewart's statue is garbed in a Confederate uniform, not the civilian clothes he wore to oversee the building of the park, and the wording on the statue makes no mention of the park or of anything other than "Old A.P.'s" Confederate service.

Further, the timing of the statue's placement coincides with a dark period in our history when Confederate statues began going up all over the South to remind right blacks "of their place." It was after the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case established the "separate but equal" doctrine that gave rise to both Jim Crow laws and the formation of the NAACP. Another influence was the "nationalism" movement following the first World War — that's also about the time the Klan made a comeback as the "Invisible Empire." The statues were quiet, but in-your-face, symbols of white supremacy.

Commissioner Beck got it just right when he said Stewart's portrayal in Confederate uniform is a core issue, no matter what greatness he achieved with the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

"We have to be careful how we try to paint a good sign on a bad uniform," he said. "We have to be careful how we do that. That has happened over and over."

The Chattanooga chapter of the NAACP has pushed for the bust's removal since July, following a similar movement across the country after the tragic mass church shooting in Charleston, S.C., by white supremacist Dylann Roof in 2015.

And in August it became crystal clear why we have to have rational conversations to separate whitewashed history from real history: An Aug. 12 Charlottesville, Va., demonstration by white nationalists and white supremacists against removing statues turned violent and a woman was killed when a man known to have had a fondness for Nazis deliberately rammed a car into a group of counterprotesters.

Dialogue — not whitewashing and not violence — widens understanding.

Our history is our history, warts and all. But our todays and our future days don't have to be whitewashed, warty and certainly not bloody.

There is no shame in righting wrongs. A.P Stewart, himself, made a point of that.

If he were alive today, he'd probably be the first to say we shouldn't let his Confederate likeness beside our courthouse remain a continuing burr in our community.

Related Article

Hamilton County Commission discusses removal of Confederate statue

Read more
Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315