HRDC's Litigation Project Mentioned ~ Confederate Reckoning: The search for a new home for South’s monuments
Editor’s note: This story is part of Confederate Reckoning, a collaborative project of USA Today Network newsrooms across the South, including The Daily Herald, to critically examine the legacy of the Confederacy and its influence on systemic racism today.
As a movement to remove Confederate monuments from government and public ground takes hold, the debate as to where the uprooted symbols should find a new home continues in Middle Tennessee.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a 124-year-old Columbia-based nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining and erecting monuments memorializing the Confederacy with a membership of more than 30,000, plans to house monuments of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and President Jefferson Davis.
The two statues, removed from the Health Sciences Park in Memphis in 2017, are planned to be brought to Columbia for display at the organization’s National Confederate Museum at Elm Springs, a Greek Revival home that previously belonged to Abraham M. Looney, a Tennessee state senator who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Despite welcoming the monuments after the end to an extended lawsuit with a nonprofit organization affiliated with the city, SCV Commander in Chief Paul C. Gramling Jr. said the museum, which has not yet opened, will not become a “graveyard” for Confederate monuments in a recent decision by the organization’s executive council.
“Once you start taking monuments, when do you stop? When do you say ‘enough?’ ” Gramling said. “We have other plans to keep this land pristine.”
The organization’s chief said the monuments honor the men who died fighting for a cause they believed in and that it is the SCV’s fundamental position that monuments, many built by organization alongside the Daughters of the Confederacy, should not be removed.
“The best place for these monuments is where they were erected 100-plus years ago,” Gramling said. “That is where they need to be. I think about the thousands upon thousands of Confederate veterans who never made it home. The ones who died on the battlefield. Black and white, those monuments remember those who did not come home. As much as we can, we need to keep these monuments in the locations they were erected in.”
For monuments that have been removed, Gramling said the SCV has a plan for where they could go, but he would not divulge any details of the organization’s vision.
“It is my desire that these states and these cities would do something with them,” Gramling said. “I don’t want to give away any plans. I do not want to have our enemies to block those efforts.”
He said the removal of the statues are the first step in the attack on the “moral fabric of America.”
“They are trying to erode and eradicate everything America has ever stood for,” Gramling said.
About 30 miles east of Columbia in Lewisburg, Bradford Pippen has established an effort to remove a monument dedicated to the Confederacy that stands next to the county’s courthouse in the center of town.
The words, “Lest We Forget,” are etched into the base of the monument in dedication to the local men who fought and died for the Confederacy, and topped with a statute of a lone Confederate soldier, a common sight across the southern landscape.
Pippen said the downtown monument and others like it across the country celebrate the Confederacy, but there is nothing that recognizes the lynchings of Black men that took place there.
“It seems like there is only one narrative that is being communicated and it is not something that is to denounce systemic racism,” Pippen said. “It is a very one-sided narrative. It is something that is not representative of the entire population in Marshall County. I want all of history to be communicated, not just a whitewashed version of that. On county and public spaces, it does not represent the views of the population.”
Pippen said he and his supporters feel that the statues like the monuments in downtown Lewisburg would find a suitable home in a museum. If that is not possible communities should erect other monuments or place plaques that put them in their proper historical context.
For Lewisburg, that includes acknowledging at least eight recorded lynchings in the county.
“Tell a complete version of the story, even if that is erecting anti-lynching monuments that are counter to these monuments,” Pippen said.
In Columbia, the names of more than 50 Black soldiers who fought and died for the Union were in 2013 added to a monument that sits at the base of the county courthouse in an effort led by the African American Heritage Society of Maury County. The addition also included the names of four local White men who also fought and died for the Union.
Not far from the courthouse, a large monument stands between the graves of confederate soldiers at the city’s Rose Hill Cemetery. The words “Our Fallen Heroes,” are etched into the base of the statue depicting a soldier leaning on his rifle-musket.
Franklin’s leaders have plans to construct a new moment honoring the Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Planned to be completed in 2021, the new monument will stand at the Williamson County Courthouse. A statue dedicated to local Confederate soldiers stands in the center of the city’s downtown square.
Pippen, a native of Marshall County who now works as the assistant director of youth services for the Marshall County court system, said systemic racism continues in his hometown and that evidence of that can be seen in a 2017 case against the local school district for a pattern of discrimination of Black school administrators which ended in a $500,000 settlement in favor of the plaintiff, school administrator Dr. Patsey Thomas.
Three years later, the Human Rights Defense Center, a non-profit organization that publishes monthly publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, filed a suit against the county sheriff for unconstitutional censorship at the local jail.
“I wanted to make home different,” Pippen said. “I am bi-racial. The majority of my family is white. Being here, understanding some of the things that I went through and some of the things that my friends went through and other people of color, communicating this is something that is very important to me. These things were built to maintain a narrative — the narrative of white supremacy and systemic racism. Hurtful would be the word because it is not something that tells the whole story.”
Pippen said the Chapel Hill boyhood home of Forrest, a slave-trader, Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader, could also be an appropriate space for the monument now located in the town square. The home, located in Marshall County, is cared for by Gene Andrews, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a public speaker for the organization.
Dr. Barry Gidcomb, a professor and lecturer of American history at Columbia State Community College, said many private Confederate museums and sites would welcome the removed moments, but the price for moving the largest monuments is too costly for those organizations to afford, if the space were available for them.
The professor said nations across the globe have repeatedly struggled with the very same topic.
“Countries formerly under Soviet domination like Hungary, Lithuania, and Russia, itself, have relegated monuments to Soviet-era occupiers and communist dictators to remote statue parks where they stand, many in a defaced condition from damage that occurred when they were vandalized and pulled down,” Gidcomb said.
“I don’t advocate a fate like this for Confederate monuments here in the U.S.,” Gidcomb said.
He said public museums like the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville would have the means to display Confederate busts, statues and monuments in a context that would “not to glorify the mythical ‘lost cause,’ of the south but to illuminate lessons from history.”
A controversial bust of Forrest inside the state Capitol will be moved to the museum following a 9-2 vote by the Tennessee Capitol Commission, following the backing of Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
The governor said Forrest’s bust has remained controversial for more than 40 years in part of a need for context.
“It is a complex history,” Lee told members of the Tennessee Press Association. “We don’t remove history. We don’t whitewash history. We need to provide a context. There is a need for people to know who Admiral Farragut and Nathan Bedford Forrest is and what their lives are.”
The museum’s chief executive said that it is the museum’s responsibility and goal to provide that context.
“Our mission is to engage the public through the preservation and interpretation of the history and culture of Tennessee, and to do so within the proper context of the state’s history and provide an appropriate setting for discourse about that history,” said Ashley Howell, the executive director of the museum. “It’s important to note that a museum setting means not only artifacts, displays and text labels. Museums provide context through research and scholarship, digital initiatives, education and programming. As a result, museums are ideally suited for providing context. It is our role in providing a space for the discussion.”
The Columbia State professor said the most suitable new locations would be in private cemeteries or on Civil War battlefields.
“My bet is that very few Confederate monuments will find homes in public museums,” Gidcomb said, citing the recent views shared by the Smithsonian. “Their concern, and that of other museum professionals, is that, even properly contextualized, Confederate monuments could acquire unintended power and legitimacy in a public museum setting.”
The SCV’s commander shared a similar sentiment that monuments of the Civil War would find a suitable home on the grounds on the nation’s many battlefields.
“I think the best place for the Confederate monuments to land are in private cemeteries that house the remains of Confederate veterans,” Gidcomb said. “This is a solution that has worked out well recently in Kentucky. Battlefield sites that display monuments to both the Union and the Confederacy could also provide permanent homes to some Confederate monuments. But I think it is likely that many of these Confederate monuments will end up in storage somewhere, or on a scrap heap.”