LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s probably the first thing anyone notices when driving into Lebanon’s town square – the statue of Confederate General Robert Hatton standing guard.
“In high school, [people] used to hang out on the square. A lot of people would gather on the square and it was never any people of color and one night [my cousin and I] rode by,” said resident Britton Winfree. “I asked him why don’t we stop there and hang out with everybody else and he’s like ‘Nah, we’re not welcomed there.’ And that’s something that’s always been around here.”
Winfree and D’Shaun Jones were both born and raised in Lebanon and believe the statue does not tell a complete story. They feel it’s a symbol of racism.
“Black men were lynched on that square also,” Winfree said.
They were part of meetings with the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans who own the statue, along with Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash.
“What I would like to see personally is we leave General Hatton where he’s at to tell the story of the Confederacy then add another monument,” Ash told News 2. “We learned that there were two Black men in the community that went to the North and joined the Union.”
Winfree is a descendant of one of those men, a slave named James Winfree who fought against the Confederate veterans the statue has honored since 1912.
“He was bought by the government for $300 and he earned his freedom through the war,” said Winfree.
He’d rather see a Civil War monument on the square and move Hatton’s statue to where his remains are buried in Wilson County.
“I do understand that some people in the community that when they see the Confederate flags, the monuments, the things are remembrances of the Civil War, can cause hurtful feelings and we need to deal with that,” said Mayor Ash. “The other side of the story is true too. The Civil War, it’s horrible that it happened but it is part of our history.”
While thousands have signed an online petition calling to remove the statue, there’s another petition saying General Hatton should stay.
“It’s not hurting anyone,” said Roger Bennett, who runs a barbershop on the town square. “I don’t think nothin’ about it. It’s part of history.”
Jones said that’s a viewpoint he understands. “We’re not trying to tear down or destroy anybody’s heritage, we’re just trying to find a compromise between the two grounds and maybe relocate the statue where they’re allowed to worship and see their heritage,” Jones said. “Me and Britton, we both work with non-profits. We have the community and kids in the best interest and we’re just really trying to get something that brings everybody together.”
Mayor Ash believed moving the statue was an issue that needed to be discussed among the various viewpoints in the city.
“The Sons and Daughters were open to discussions about moving it but where we left it off was where is it going to go and who’s going to pay for it,” Ash said. “My thinking about anything controversial or difficult is they should be faced head-on. We got a problem? Let’s put both sides together and talk about it and try to fix it rather than just sweeping it down the rug and moving on, kicking it down the road for somebody else to handle.”
Recent social unrest has renewed debate over Confederate monuments and if they represent history versus hate. News 2 digs deeper into how Tennessee is coping with its Confederate past, present, and future. Read more on Monuments & Middle Ground here.