NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The future of a Confederate monument in Centennial Park could be up in the air, according to Nashville Parks and Recreation board members.
The monument was erected in 1909 and has been in Centennial Park since the early 1900’s.
Metro police said the monument was vandalized on June 17, 2019. It was smeared with the words “they were racists” in red paint down its side. The damage covered more than 500 names of the United Confederate Veterans who commissioned it.
A few years ago, Metro Parks had a group of local historians and representatives from the Historical Commission get together to meet about the monument, according to Metro Board of Parks and Recreation meeting minutes from July 2, 2019.
At the time, officials learned the monument could not be removed or relocated without state approval. There is a waiver process. Some historians suggested relocating the monument with contextual and interpretive information, placing the monument in the Confederate era. However, no such site location has been identified at this time.
In August of 2019, the board voted to defer the issue of removing the Confederate monument from Centennial Park.
Park board member, Dr. Michelle Steele released the following statement to News 2:
The Naming Committee of the Parks Board will meet soon to discuss the issue of the Confederate Monument in Centennial Park. It would be inappropriate for me to comment until the committee and the full Board has had a discussion on this issue. The next meeting of the Naming Committee will be held Tuesday, September 1, 2020.
– Dr. Michelle Steele, Park board member
News 2 spoke with Vanderbilt University Professor David Ikard, an expert in African American Studies as well as H. Edward Phillips, Attorney for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the family of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Ikard feels the country cannot move forward if monuments like the one in Centennial Park remain in place.
“We can’t have a conversation, a real conversation when symbols of white supremacy are still up there and people are not being truthful about them. You take them down, and then we can have a serious conversation about how we want to actually memorialize this moment. And make sure that we include a lot of the African Americans who died and fought in the Civil War, that we include a much more complex history. Real reconciliation means you know what, I’m going to step back, and I’m going to ask you, what do you think should be done? Right, because you are the wounded party. So what do you think we should do? And I think have you surveyed African Americans I think, you know, it’s overwhelming that they would say, first and foremost, take those down.”
While others like Phillips feel these monuments symbolize a true resting place for men who died fighting for their country.
“These battlefields, a lot of the men on both sides, but in particular on the Confederate side, were buried in mass graves. Only known to their creator, and nobody else. Hundreds and hundreds of men and their bodies just thrown in these mass graves and those battlefields, cemeteries and those monuments are to remember those men. Wars are disgusting, you know, it represents the complete breakdown of political discourse. And to take these monuments down is basically to say that, you know, those men who died, preserving their memories is irrelevant, and that’s how a lot of people are going to take it. As an attorney, I tend to look, you know, look at things through the lens of the law and then also history.”
News 2 asked both Ikard and Phillips if there would be any value in adding historical context to the monuments, rather than moving them.
“I think that’s a great question. I would say, in short, no, I would say that what has to happen is that the wound has to be addressed. Right? So, in other words, you got to take it down. There’s no way to color over that. That, for me, is really non-negotiable. I would say, first of all, it has to be removed. And then I think there’s a way that we can engage our history in an open and an honest way. That speaks to the wounds 750,000 people that died in the Civil War,” said Ikard.
Phillips believes it could be a possible middle ground solution.
“I think there’s a way to do that. I think you have to be careful how you do it historically, because I don’t think you can put 21st century notions on the 19th century. I don’t begrudge anyone the right to peacefully protest and raise these issues, because they’re important. But, I think where we diverge is this whole notion that will they should be taken right down right now. And I don’t think the polling supports that. I think the vast majority of Americans want to leave them in place, and do some workarounds on these things and make sure we have a fair and balanced representation in the public forum.”
With recent protests for and against these monuments across Tennessee, both Ikard and Phillips do agree that they can spark an open dialogue within the community.
“I was encouraged by that, it showed me a different Nashville than I thought I lived in. So, I would say that the possibilities are there. But there’s still work to do a lot of work to do, particularly in Tennessee,” Ikard explained.
“We’ve had about 183 monuments throughout the nation that have been vandalized, destroyed, toppled or removed at the behest of protesters. I think these monuments are ways to talk to one another. I think these monuments are way to educate ourselves and say, ‘okay, what’s the real history of this nation?’ You know, the history that everybody glosses over,” stated Phillips.
News 2 will follow the outcome of the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation meeting regarding the future of the statue and provide any updates as they develop. Board members are withholding comment until after their meeting.
News 2 reached out to The Tennessee Historical Commission regarding a possible waiver to move the monument. We received the following statement:
I am responding to your inquiry about a waiver request from the Metro Board of Parks and Rec to move the Confederate monument in Centennial Park. The answer is no, we have not received a waiver request regarding this monument.
– Susan McClamroch, Historic Preservation Specialist, Tennessee Heritage Protection Act and Outreach
This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 and WKRN.com for updates.