Remove a Confederate statue? Instead one Tennessee city did so.

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Remove a Confederate statue? Instead one Tennessee city did so.

Franklin, Tenn. – For decades, as Hewitt Sawyers passed the Confederate soldier’s memorial standing in his city’s public square, he felt the weight of slavery’s long shadow.

Mr. Sawyers, 73, attended an isolated school in Franklin, about 20 miles south of Nashville. He read torn books from the local white high school. The courthouse offered a “coloured” water fountain, and the movie theater did not welcome it on the lower floor. As Confederate monuments began to come down across the South following a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he wanted the 37-foot local statue, known as “Chip,” gone as well.

“The chip represents a big part of the reason I wasn’t part of the downtown area,” said Sawyers, a Baptist minister. “Every time I walked around that square, it was a reminder of what had happened.”

Mr. Sawyers and like-minded residents did not remove the statue, but they have come up with a provocative response to it: a new bronze statue in Franklin’s public square depicting a life-size soldier from the US Colored Troops serving as the main It is a Black Regiment. Those who were recruited for the US Army during the Civil War.

The new monument, which was unveiled to a crowd of hundreds on Saturday, and five recently added markers tell the story of the market house where slaves were auctioned off and the role local black men played in their fight for freedom. had played. Dubbed the Fuller Story, a four-year project led by Mr. Sawyers and three other local residents expanded the narrative of why and how the war was fought.

“Here is a black man who was a slave who gave his life to help free other people,” Mr. Sawyers said. “To stand here, now, in front of a statue that represents those enslaved and to know that, as he so desired, we won – what a powerful message.”

Franklin, a city of approximately 80,000 people, is in the state’s wealthiest and fastest growing county. Long known for its lush pastures, it is now an economic center for major corporations. Most of its tourism and identification centers on Civil War sites, with visitors visiting Carton, a farm that became a field hospital and graveyard for Confederate soldiers, and Carter House, a Confederate home that survived the fierce Battle of Franklin. I was surrounded. The seal of Williamson County, where Franklin is located, includes a Confederate flag and cannon.

That the Fuller Story project received unanimous approval from city officials marks a significant development in how the community remembers the Civil War.

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Eric Jacobson, a local historian who worked on the project, said, “It was long overdue to tell people not only the story of U.S. soldiers of color but this very influential story of the black experience during the war.” “A lot of people just didn’t know about it.”

The city’s alderman for 24 years, Dana McLendon, called it “probably the most important thing we’ve ever done”.

The effort began in 2017 in response to racist violence in Charlottesville, when a white pastor, Kevin Riggs, told a public gathering that it was time to bring down the local Confederate monument, a proposal that was met with death threats and angry voices. mail message.

Supporters also became familiar with the legal hurdles they would face. The Confederate Monument had been there since 1899. It was established by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, in the process the figure’s hat was affixed, making it its permanent nickname. A 2013 state law imposed new restrictions on the removal of monuments.

Mr. Jacobson had an alternative idea: Instead of focusing on removing the Confederate statue, he said, Franklin should share the stories of local African Americans related to the Civil War. The group eventually raised $150,000 in private donations to make it happen.

The five markers put up by the front of the courtyard and the center of the square were made in 2019. The large planks describe the experiences of African Americans before, after, and during the war and include photographs and drawings from that era. One includes advertisements for auctioning enslaved people for cash or credit.

“You can hear all these romantic, ‘Gone with the Wind’ slavery stories, but here’s the reality: Where you stand, men, women, boys and girls were bought like cattle,” Mr Riggs said. “This happened.”

Joe Frank Howard, a sculptor from Columbus, Ohio, created the “March to Freedom” statue of the US Colored Troops. The soldier stands with his foot planted on a tree stump and holds a rifle to his knee. Broken shackles were lying under him. The title refers to the marching of soldiers before the war, but also covers marches throughout the fight for civil rights, said Mr. Howard, 73.

“That war was the first step toward true freedom for people of color in America,” he said.

About 180,000 black soldiers fought for the United States during the Civil War. Still isolated from white soldiers, they often faced brutal consequences if they were captured by the Confederates.

“I’ve seen a lot of Confederate statues in my day,” said Chris Williamson, a Franklin pastor. “But I personally have never seen a statue of the Colored Soldiers of the United States.”

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He said, “Image matters. Representation matters.”

There are many other monuments and some statues around the country in memory of Black Civil War soldiers, including the monument in Boston; Lexington Park, MD; Vicksburg, Miss.; And another Washington DC one is set to be unveiled in Wilmington, NC in November.

Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center, praised Fuller Story, especially in light of Tennessee’s restrictive conservation laws, but said the two sculptures should not be accepted as offering a balanced view of war, Given the purpose of the union, chattel slavery for a long time. “They are not the same,” Ms Brooks said.

Franklin’s elected leaders, united on the acceptance of Fuller Story, are divided over whether the Confederate statue should be removed.

Alderman Margaret Martin said, “Part of what makes Franklin Franklin is our history.” “He was where he was supposed to be.”

Mr McLendon is among those who want to see it taken to Carnton Cemetery. “If you go to read the words on the statue, if it doesn’t make you a little uncomfortable in 2021, I guess, maybe try again,” he said. (“No country has ever had true sons, no reason great champions,” reads the inscription. “The glory they have won will be no less than ours.”)

Any attempt to move the statue is complicated by a new agreement between the city and the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Union, which objected to the location of the Fuller Story project and claimed ownership of the land. The city filed a lawsuit, seeking a decision on ownership, and in a settlement, ceded the land under the Confederate monument directly to the group. Should anyone seek its transfer, “we’ll fight that tooth and nail,” said Doug Jones, an attorney representing the United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter.

Mr Williamson said he had received pushback from some black residents, disappointed that the Fuller Story did not go far enough to change the face of Franklin’s city. If others want to push for the removal of the Confederate statue, that is his prerogative, but with the “March to Freedom” now in the public square, he has gone ahead.

“I’m excited about the stories we’re telling that haven’t been told,” he said. “I don’t have time for a chip.”

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