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Tennessee offers alternative to removing Confederate statue

Statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, (August 2017 Memphis, Tennessee) This statue, as well as one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, were removed last year.

By Carol Ozemhoya

For decades, when Hewitt Sawyers drove past the monument of the Confederate soldier standing tall in his city’s public square, he felt the weight of slavery’s long shadow, reports the New York Times. Sawyers, 73, had attended a segregated school in Franklin, about 20 miles south of Nashville. He read from torn books passed down from the local White high school. The courthouse offered a “colored” water fountain, and the movie theater did not welcome him on the lower floor. As Confederate monuments across the South began to come down after a 2017 White nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he wanted the 37-foot local statue, known as “Chip,” gone, too.

“Chip represented a large part of the reason I was not part of the downtown arena,” Sawyers, a Baptist minister, said. “Every time I went around that square, it was a reminder of what had gone on.”

Sawyers and like-minded residents did not get the statue removed, 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 U.S. Colored Troops, largely Black regiments that were recruited for the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

The new monument, which was unveiled in October before a crowd of hundreds, and five recently added markers tell the story of the market house where enslaved people were auctioned and the role that local Black men played in fighting for their freedom. Dubbed the Fuller Story, the four-year project led by Sawyers and three other local residents expanded the narrative of why and how the war was fought.

“Here is a Black man who was enslaved, who gave his life to go out to help free other people,” Sawyers said. “To be standing here, now, in the face of a statue that represents enslaving those people and to know that, because he was willing to do that, we won — what a powerful message.”

Franklin, a city of about 80,000 people, is in the wealthiest and fastest growing county in the state. Long known for its wide swaths of green pastures, it is now an economic hub for major corporations. Much of its tourism and identity centers on Civil War landmarks, with visitors touring Carnton, a farm that became a field hospital and burial ground for Confederate soldiers, and Carter House, a Confed]erate home engulfed in the gruesome Battle of Franklin. The seal of Williamson County, where Franklin is located, includes a Confederate flag and cannon.

That the Fuller Story project gained unanimous approval from city officials marks a significant evolution in how the community memorializes the Civil War.

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