Tennessee Heritage Protection Act puts future of Confederate monuments in hands of commission

Special Reports

Monuments and Middle Ground

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – In cities and towns throughout the South, statues to the Confederacy are the norm. That norm is under attack from those who see the monuments as reminders of slavery, racial suppression, racial division and want them removed.

Those who see the monuments as their heritage, their history, their story, their efforts are aimed at keeping them in places of public honor.

Laws such as Tennessee’s Heritage Protection Act were passed by white lawmakers over the objections of Black lawmakers to protect and prevent removal of these Confederate monuments.

“I felt there needed to be an open, public process where decisions would be made about this,” said Former State Representative Steve McDaniel.

McDaniel, a Civil War reenactor, and historian sponsored the original Tennessee Heritage Protection Act.

“This applies to government-owned public spaces and I had seen across the country where a handful of people had made a decision to remove memorials, these war memorials, monuments, and statues.”

It has been suggested these confederate monuments and statues be moved to Civil War battlefields or museums. The Tennessee Heritage Protection Act gives the power to make that decision to the Tennessee Historical Commission.

“What this process does is allow more input and it does not allow a handful of people, who are politicians, to make those decisions. When this goes before the Tennessee Historical Commission it will be reviewed by them, but there will be ample opportunity for public input into the process,” said McDaniel.

The decision of the commission is final, unless challenged.

The South lost the Civil War and slavery was abolished, so then does a Confederate general, leader, anyone who fought to continue slavery deserve a place of public honor?

“History is history and it’s the heritage of this state and many of the state’s people,” said McDaniel. “We can’t just erase our history.”

The fact is most of these statues and monuments were erected years after the Civil War, between 1890 and 1920, during Jim Crow segregation laws, and again in the 1950s and ’60s during desegregation protests. Monuments viewed by many as a way for the white majority to show its strength.

“I think everyone has a point of view when you are looking at these,” said McDaniel. “I don’t blame someone if they have a different point of view than I might have, but we need to keep this in front of the historians, the experts of our history, to make decisions whether or not these will be removed from publicly owned places because these belong to the public and that is not just one portion of the public.” McDaniel said that’s what the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act does, “It’s important to tell the whole story of that time period and we’ve not done that very well in Tennessee. I think by telling the whole story where every side has an opportunity to place memorials and monuments to their view of it, then it may go a long way [to] help settle this dispute.” 

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.

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