CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – A Tennessee chapter of the NAACP is urging officials to remove a statue of a Confederate general from in front of a county courthouse, echoing similar efforts throughout the South.
Elenora Woods, president of the NAACP’s Chattanooga chapter, said Wednesday that the group will write letters to local leaders asking for the statue of Alexander P. Stewart to be moved from the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.
“We are trying to get collective support,” Woods said. “We are going to ask (officials) to join us, so this will be more of a community effort versus an antagonistic, us-against-them kind of thing.”
Stewart was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army. The statue was unveiled in 1919.
Woods said such monuments, erected during the Jim Crow era, don’t belong at public government buildings. She recommended moving the statue to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park or a war museum.
“We’re not saying it’s part of our history that needs to be erased,” Woods said. “It should be put in a place that’s more appropriate.”
A staff historian for the national military park, Jim Ogden, said the statue wasn’t intended to glorify the Confederacy. He said it honors Steward’s role as a historian, active community member and an original commissioner of the national military park, the first of its kind in the nation.
The statue does “acknowledge that he was a Confederate general, but if he had lived out his life in other places in Tennessee, I’m confident in saying there would not be a monument to him here in Chattanooga,” Ogden said.
Woods said the city needs to acknowledge its past and move monuments that serve as reminders of a dark historical period in order to be seen as progressive.
“Until we can do that, all these race relationship things are in vain,” she said. “You have to attack some of the things that are keeping us from moving forward, and that’s one of them.”
The 2016 Tennessee Heritage Protection Act may present a barrier to removal. County commissioners Joe Graham and Greg Beck said Wednesday that they couldn’t comment on the request until they actually received the NAACP letters.
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