A small southern town and her monument

**This article is a work in progress and will continue to be updated as a repository of this story about the monument. I do not plan to continually publish articles on this subject but to add to this single article as more information is made available to me. (First published 6/25/20; last updated 7/3/20)**

A year ago, I moved to the small town of Cleveland, Tennessee for work. I have loved my time here. But, between COVID-19 and the national racial unrest, it has been a strange year to begin life in a new home. 

Over the last few weeks, the unrest has hit us close to home as a confederate statue has sparked a controversy. This statue is just off the edge of our University campus, two blocks from my church, and a few blocks from my home, so it has been a big part of my experience since moving here. It was something my wife noticed and pointed out right away.
 
As the situation has developed in town over the last few weeks, I have seen brave actions and beautiful thoughts written. It struck me that this is a story that is echoed in other cities and may be of interest to people across the nation. But, this isn’t my story. I’m new to town. I haven’t done the brave things or written the beautiful words. What I do have is a website where I can document and highlight this story. This is the story of Cleveland, TN but, it could be so many other towns and cities across the nation.
 

It Began

It began on June 8th when Kelsey Elaine, a political science major at Lee University, launched an online petition to move this local statue to a more appropriate location.
 
 
Here is the text of the petition:

In downtown Cleveland stands a 1910 memorial dedicated to Confederate soldiers. This monument is located at the intersection of Broad, Ocoee, and 8th. It lies directly across the street from Lee University, a Christan campus teeming with racial and international diversity, and breeds discomfort for many students (and residents) of color.  Therefore, this petition is calling for the removal of this statue as it no longer represents the ideals of the great city of Cleveland. This statue was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy (DoC), an organization known for its incredibly racist and oppressive history. The DoC built this statue in a period of significant racial conflict with the intent to intimidate liberated African-Americans and promote a “white” America.

Furthermore, the confederacy represents slavery, racism, and a rebellion against the Union. This monument was erected to designate honor to the confederacy and the ideals it stood for–– the protection of slavery and secession from the United States. As our society continues to grapple with deep racial discord and tension, we cannot allow this statue––which holds the memory of un-American ideals, racial hatred, and violence––  to be promulgated in our city. Though it is essential to remember and reflect on our past, the location of the monument is inappropriate as it is an offensive and harmful reminder of the south’s history of slavery and racial oppression. 

This statue honors a period of history that should be remembered but not celebrated. We do not need a statue situated on one of Cleveland’s busiest streets to remember history. Those seeking the statue’s removal understand the hesitation to demolish this mark of history. Hence, we petition that it at least be removed from its current location. More suitable locations include the statue placed within a civil war display at the Museum Center at 5ive Points or in Craigmiles House, Cleveland’s Public Library History Branch and Archives. These are more appropriate and educational locations where individuals can learn more about this statue’s history without holding it in a place of honor.

Though this symbol is a reminder of our past, it does not represent our future. Because this statute intended to promote fear and segregation, it’s removal proclaims that Cleveland is intent on recognizing our past and refusing to honor such abhorrent history. To remove this statue shows that Cleveland welcomes and encourages racial diversity and Chrisitan values of love and acceptance. 

 
This petition was posted the day after a Unity Walk that was organized by several churches and had 1200-1500 participants. This walk had been completely ignored by the local newspaper. The petition, however, quickly gained traction and when the newspaper covered it, in an article published online on June 10th and in print on the 11th, it already had over 2000 signatures. Things began to heat up. Kelsey was immediately harassed online and began to receive death threats.
 
Quickly, another petition was started by people who want to keep the monument in its current location. The petition to keep the monument originally began “I’m so angry.” and then went on but the beginning sentence has been removed and now reads:
 
A Lee student has started a petition to remove our monument. This is our town. They don’t have the right to come here and tell us what to have and not to have in our community. The Lee students will move on, we will continue to live here. We all grew up with that monument. Let’s fight back! They are protesting black lives matter every life matters we all bleed red  This statue is a piece of concrete for the falling confederate Soldiers black and white 
 
Within 12-hours, that petition had surpassed the original petition and had soon gained 1600 signatures more than the original, though as of now, with over 8700, signatures the petition to move the monument has more traction. *Update: As of July 3rd, 2020 the petition to take down the monument has 10,371 signatures and the petition to keep the monument has 8721 signatures.
 

Some Historical Context

The Cleveland, TN monument to the confederate dead in Downtown Cleveland.

One continual refrain in this controversy about the monument is a cry to, “not destroy history.” But, this monument was not erected just after the Civil War. Cleveland remained loyal to the United States government during the war. It was erected 45 years later as part of what is called the Lost Cause movement which sought to cast the Confederate secession as a heroic cause. The Journal and Banner published the speeches from when the monument was dedicated on June 3, 1911, the year after it was installed, as part of the Confederate Decoration Day celebration. The local Jefferson Davis chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy formed 1905 and immediately began to plan for this monument. A 12′ x 12′ plot of land upon which the monument sits was sold to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This monument seems to be the first such monument erected in East Tennessee.

The entire dedication is too long to post here. Here are a few quotes to highlight the tone of reconciliation which sought to establish equal moral ground between those fighting to continue slavery and those fighting, in part, to end it. 
 
Mayor Charles S. Mayfield:
We are not a docile people, and if you wave the red flag at us we will charge and if you prod us we will fight, but if you meet us in a spirit of friendliness, and extend to us the hand of sympathy, and say to us: “The soldiers of our army were heroes and the soldiers of your army were heroes. There was much of good and some of wrong in our cause; and there was much of good and some of wrong in your cause. We love and honor your veterans.”
More from Major Mayfield:
To those veterans of the Confederacy who yet can hear with mortal ears, I would say that his shaft is erected in honor of you and your comrades. The expressions upon it are not all that we feel, but feeble words are insufficient to tell of our love, our admiration, our gratitude. But in every Southern heart there is another tribute to you, graven upon the lasting tablets of love, too delicate and too fine for mortal ears or mortal minds, that can only be understood and known to the Celectial (sic) Corps of the Confederacy.
 
Closing remarks from Mayor Mayfield:
when you are called “To cross over the river and lie in the shade on the other side,” you may go with the realization that those of us who are left will tell the coming generations of your valorous deeds and courageous struggles, and your memory will be even more enduring than this seemingly ever lasting shaft of granite.
Dr. David Sullins who served in the Confederate Army also spoke:
It was simply [the United Daughters of the Confederate’s] desire to build a monument to the virtue, the courage, the heroism and the gentleness of the fathers, brothers and sweethearts of the Southern army. 
Dr. Sullins continued:
they displayed real courage, true devotion and patriotism and now today we want to unveil this monument to them and commemorate their good qualities-that’s all.
 
The paper editorializing:
This latter sentiment lead many Confederates and their friends to remark during the serving of the dinner that if a movement is ever started to build in Cleveland a monument to those who wore the blue that the ladies who built the Confederate monument and the Confederate soldiers and their friends will be the first to give it their aid and sympathy and financial support.
Of course, there is no statue to Union soldiers in downtown Cleveland, TN. The area had been living under Jim Crow for a generation at this point and the Lost Cause mythology fit well with the social narrative of the time. There is a Union monument in the nearby Civil War cemetery which is much smaller and rundown. I wasn’t able to find it when I first went to look for it. A friend helped me to find it the second time. Honestly, it is right at the front but I was expecting something that looked more like a monument than a placard. This was erected three years after the Confederate monument was dedicated but pales in comparison. 
 

The Union monument in the local Civil War cemetery.

 

The Demonstrations Began

On Sunday, June 14th., a small group of pro-monument protestors gathered around the statue with both the United States flag and the Confederate flag. We received word that a friend was going to demonstrate. My wife and I were concerned that it may not be a safe situation so we went to show support. When we arrived, a small group of demonstrators had already arrived and had set up across the street from the flag wielding pro-monument protestors. 
 

This man came out and made vulgar hand gestures toward demonstrators. Photo by Tammy Rockwell

 
Both were peaceful, though there was some yelling or chanting back and forth. Eventually, the pro-monument protestors left and we moved in around the monument. It was disheartening that while we stood there peacefully, people drove by flipping us off and cursing out the window. Some would stop in the road, blocking traffic, to yell and argue. One resident, who apparently lives across the street, came out and yelled at demonstrators hand signing that they were crazy, pointing to his crotch, slapping his butt, and making “jacking-off” hand gestures. He then went inside and someone from his house called the police complaining about the demonstrators. When the police arrived they made no efforts to stop the demonstration. The lead officer indicated that his main concern was that the person who had called in the complaint was considering doing something “really stupid” to “scare us off.” A video had been taken of him gesturing at the demonstrators and trying to provoke them which was shown to the officer. The police then went to his house and spent a long time speaking with him.
 
The demonstration remained on site for a while and was peaceful.
 

Leadership Emerges

Franco Crosby is the friend who we went out to support that first night of demonstrations. He is an alumnus of Lee University and is starting the Masters in Theology program at Vanderbilt University this fall. He has emerged as a leader in this demonstration and a voice for peace. Under his guidance, the demonstrators no longer yell in response to provocation. They have adopted a stance of non-engagement. They demonstrate peacefully and do not respond to provocations from the pro-monument protesters or motorists. A growing group of demonstrators, dedicated to change, gather virtually every evening to call attention to the issue.
 
 
Franco has done a great job in leading and organizing the demonstrations. He has taken it as an opportunity to model non-violence and to educate. The demonstration has moved across the street from the monument because it is deemed as a safer location and also because the demonstration wants to make a clear statement that they are not damaging the monument. The demonstration has adopted a non-engagement model since there have been plenty of people who have tried to provoke angered responses. One particularly powerful event which has been implemented is an 8:46 silent remembrance in honor of George Floyd. Franco calls the demonstrators together elucidates some history and explains the reason for the 8:46. It is powerful to kneel there that long and to contemplate life slowly being choked out of another human. It is a powerful reminder of just how long that is. 
 
The 8:46 has also become a touchpoint for the pro-monument protestors. They often crank up the music while Franco speaks or call him out by name making sometimes wild and unfounded accusations. It is common for them to cross the road and walk through the group of demonstrators trying to elicit a reaction. As the demonstrators kneel silently, they have played music, called out insults, and played clips of conspiracy theories that tie Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, Antifa, and much more into a bizarre, convoluted deep-state conspiracy narrative. 
 

8:46 remembrance of George Floyd with a pro-monument protester walking in their midst. Photo by Tammy Rockwell

 

Public Officials and Provocateurs

It has been disheartening to see the public response to the monument issue. Kelsey has received death threats. Franco has received death threats. I know of at least one demonstrator who was standing on the sidewalk when someone she didn’t know walked up to her and said, I know where you live, and then recited her address. When the demonstrators break for the evening, they make sure to return to their cars in groups or with escorts for safety.

Public officials have made a variety of statements. Some well thought out but they all seem to lead back to not addressing the issue. One exception is a County Commissioner who has been trying to inflame the issue. She has tagged Kelsey on Facebook posts to try and intimidate. She keeps her private Facebook account public so that her opinions can be seen by all but blocks anyone who disagrees with her. This is not a new tactic for her. She has been doing this at least since she began railing against public safety precautions taken for COVID-19 and has continued. 

 

Pro-monument protesters invoking the American flag in support of a monument to the Confederacy. Photo by Tammy Rockwell

On June 20th, she encouraged the attendance of a pro-monument demonstration. She claimed that Franco is a “cult leader/professional protester” who is “brainwashing these young girls into following someone like Jim Jones” and claiming that he “only wanted to incite violence.” There were also claims that the demonstrators were being paid $20 an hour and being bussed in from out of town. Neither is true.

Flag-waving pro-monument protesters crossed the street to walk among the demonstrators during their 8:46 moment of silence for George Floyd. Photo by Tammy Rockwell

The evening was tense with the larger group of pro-monument protestors often trying to intimidate the smaller crowd demonstrating against the monument. But, there was no violence and the police only stepped in to stop a group who had decided to repeatedly ride their motorcycles around while waving flags.

 

Voices of Support

It has been heartening to see support come from the community for the petition, Kelsey, and the demonstrators. It is these testimonies scattered across Facebook and other locations that first inspired this repository. They are powerful and widely shared. Here are a few powerful examples.

From Jordan Holt

I am grieved, and angry, to see vitriol and cruelty directed towards Lee University students (particularly Kelsey Elaine) who have raised the issue of Cleveland’s public statue that stands in honor of Confederate soldiers. I’m embarrassed that so many adults in Cleveland are so void of restraint and reason as to venomously attack young students who are advocating rationally.
 
I’m also devastated because so many of these people wave the banner of Christianity, and while I can think of a multiplicity of biblical arguments (most explicitly Romans 14 and Matthew 5:39-41) as to why these young advocates should be heard and frankly, why that statue should be removed, I can think of not one argument based upon a foundation of Christian morality that justifies caustic condemnation and the elevation of one’s “Southern Heritage” above biblical principles.
 
Prioritizing one’s regional identity at the expense of compassion and generosity is idolatry. Graven images and all.
 
I loathe social media as an avenue for serious communication, but since that’s where the majority of this conversation has taken place I’ll not let my students be torn down in this venue without injecting my support for them, however insignificant.
 
I’m sorely disappointed to find that Cleveland reacts in this way to the slightest pressure against symbols of the Confederacy erected nearly 50 years after the Civil War in an attempt to mythologize such a flawed military effort. For states’ rights? States’ rights to do what? The answer to that question is easier to avoid, as it was for me when I used such hackneyed arguments to carve out a justification for a Southern identity.
 
I’m disappointed with Mayor Kevin Brooks who responded to this crisis stating only that he has noticed the division, and that he regrets that it has occurred. A small addendum reminds us the tiny parcel of land that holds the statue is in private hands. The suggestion that the city is helpless to offer any address to the issue, or to appeal to the owners to have the statue moved to a museum, battlefield or cemetery is a ridiculous notion and an abdication of leadership on the part of Mayor Brooks. I respect the mayor, and hope he returns with a more meaningful response to address these concerns. I would welcome a town hall event to discuss the issue.
 
I’m disappointed that there have been voices and protests in favor of taking down the statue that have damaged the credibility of the conversation with hostility and poor behavior. But my priority is on the peaceful and thoughtful advocacy that began with the petition. That’s what I want to see through to the end.
 
For any who fear their Southern identity is at risk of deletion, find it in fields, mountains and streams. Find it in hospitality and generosity, and most importantly find it in Christ instead of in a ill-motivated war effort that rightfully failed. If any identity of mine, including that of lifelong Tennessean and tax-paying Clevelander interferes with my ability to comply with Scripture, it’s not worth keeping. (Matthew 5:29-30)
 
I spent years of my life believing racism was dead. It’s not. There is a poison in the culture, and its sources require rooting out. Confederate celebration is one of those sources. The principles of the Confederacy contradict the principles of Christ. The choice then is easy.
 
Note: Being that Facebook posts do not often change minds, I’m primarily expressing this in solidarity with the Lee students who began this petition, black students and members of the Cleveland community, and those who support them. Thus, I’ll be deleting anything that appears on this status that appears hostile or illogical. If you wish to challenge my perspective, I’m open to doing that in person.
 

Demonstrator enduring insults from pro-monument protesters. Photo by Tammy Rockwell

By Jared Wielfaert:

 
Last night I visited a protest here in Cleveland, TN over a Confederate monument that’s been in our town since in 1910. I say “visited,” but once you step onto that sidewalk, neutrality is not really an option. The Cleveland monument was installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as part of a broader effort to reshape the historical memory of the American Civil War in this country. If you’ve grown up learning that the war was about “states’ rights,” if you’ve heard a family member argue that slave owners treated their slaves well, like “part of the family,” or think that southern states were in the process of gradually transforming their systems of exploitation and could have done so peacefully, if only “northern aggressors” had not forced the issue, then your own ideas have been shaped to some extent by the narrative pushed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (among others).
 
The statues erected by the UDC are not history. No statue can be. A statue is a symbol, an argument about what is good and worthy of public honor. I hadn’t given much thought to our own local Confederate monument, until two weeks ago, when a brave Lee student launched a cogently written, respectful petition that proposed moving the statue to a museum, where its history could be better explained and contextualized. I quietly signed and went on with my life. I was with the petitioner in spirit, sort of, but mostly just preoccupied with my job and family, meeting my responsibilities and obligations. However, the local reaction to this petition has begun to chip away at that convenient ambivalence. First, there were the comments in the local paper, the conversations with friends, the irrational rage and ungodly attachment to a statue that does not reflect the complexities of our local history, was not primarily the initiative of local families, and bears no relation to the truth of the cause it claims to represent.
 
Then, the protests started. The protesters who’ve gathered each evening around the Confederate monument in Cleveland are not out-of-town agitators. They are not on some George Soros payroll. Some are friends, former students, and local clergy. Some are Cleveland natives and people we go to church with. They’ve been holding Black Lives Matter signs, standing in protest beneath the monument. And, perhaps not surprisingly, they’ve been met with counter-protesters.
 
Last night a colleague expressed concern for the safety of students whom she knew were attending the protests and asked me to drop by to take a look. So I went down, primarily to be an observer. What I saw was heart-wrenching. I was deeply affected. The protesters – many of whom I know – were simply standing, for the most part silently. Their bodies alone and their signs, “Black Lives Matter,” were enough to attract the ridicule, condescension, and vitriol of a flag-draped group of local folks, who outnumbered them three to one.
 
I watched a friend’s son standing alone amidst the counter-protestors, his back to the monument, enduring constant insults and physical intimidation. “And he opened not his mouth.” Another friend and former student was leading the protesters quietly on the sidewalk, encouraging self-discipline, insisting that no one return the insults or engage in any way with the counter-protesters. He was dispensing history lessons to the others, quoting MLK, elaborating on the theological foundation for his advocacy. Not long after I arrived, he explained to me that chants were completely unnecessary. Merely the presence of his body, and the bodies of his friends and supporters, kneeling on the sidewalk would be enough to unveil the bigotry that normally lurks quietly under the surface of our public decorum. That is one of primary purposes of protest. To unveil and reveal what is rotten to the core lurking under the symbols and systems we know are not quite right. Sure, you may think, a Confederate monument is just a harmless vestige of a difficult but long ago past. What harm is it doing sitting there? Isn’t its presence in our community among the least of our worries? But the image is only the outermost surface of pathologies and attachments that go straight back to the past we have conveniently imagined to be too distant to worry about. Stepping out onto that side walk last night was a clarifying experience for me. A lot of historical and sociological complexity was distilled into two stark and opposing sides. And I know which side I am on.
 
I am writing this post because I was asked to bear witness to what I saw. My observations cannot encompass what happened on previous nights, nor can I assume that because I saw peaceful, disciplined protestors at work, all such protestors must therefore act accordingly. But I was asked to put what I saw into words to share with you. The folks who have asked me to do this, along with those who’ve launched the petition and who are putting their bodies on the sidewalk night after night, are far braver and more steadfast than I am. They are optimistic enough to believe that they can change the world, that long-standing injustices can be righted, that old injuries and insults, grievances and wounds can be tended, salved, and healed. These protestors think that the resentments that roil beneath the surface of polite society can and should be brought out into the open, where pastors and teachers and loved ones can see these things and understand them for what they are. Only then, can we hold one another accountable for our deeply ingrained, deeply wrong patterns of thinking. I am not so naive as to think that any of this will be easy, convenient, or without its costs. But I do urge you, at minimum, to hear out and think carefully and open-mindedly about these sincere proposals to rethink the place of Confederate monuments in our public spaces.

 

The Thoughtful Approach

On June 24th, The local newspaper published an opinion piece by two of the demonstrators. Franco Crosby, introduced above, and Sarah Keel, a lifelong resident of Cleveland, a Lee University and UT Chattanooga graduate, and a current Ph.D. candidate in literature. It is a thoughtful and reasoned piece advocating the removal of the statue to a more appropriate educational location. One of the intriguing ironies of this story is that Cleveland, TN was not a confederate city. The vote in the 1860s was overwhelmingly in support of staying in the Union with 1,382 citizens voting to stay in the Union and only 507 desiring to join the insurrection. While 73% of residents sided with the Union almost 160 years ago, a statue erected 45 years after the end of the war has Cleveland bitterly divided today.
 

Inciting Violence

The following day, June 25th, the local paper abandoned the reasoned tone of the opinion piece and published as news rhetoric which amounts to an attempt to incite violence against the demonstrators.

A former County Commissioner led a meeting of Constitutionalists in the County Courthouse. This article uncritically quotes voices advocating vigilantism:

“You need to have a plan,” he said. “I’m not talking about a military-attack plan, I’m talking about if this happens, let’s do this. If you see somebody you don’t recognize, you call me.”  

The article continues to report the untrue claims that many of the demonstrators are not local. He further delved into unhinged conspiracies about the demonstrators:

“This is an insurrection,” he said of the violent protests. “This is a communist insurrection. If you believe anything else, I believe that you are naive.”
 
He compared the protesters’ tactics to those used during the Bolshevik Revolution, as well as other communist uprisings.
 
“These communists are your enemies,” he said. “They would kill you, your wife and there’s no telling what they would do to your kids. They would kill or poison your dog. If you don’t believe that, you’re living in a fairy tale.”
This rhetoric is being levied against a group of peaceful demonstrators. Demonstrators who show restraint in the face of provocation and whose most aggressive tactic is kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence while a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. plays.
 
And, he is not without action; he claims, “I went to their car. I followed them. I took their tag numbers … I got pictures of them.” Frankly, this is dangerous rhetoric and irresponsible journalism on the part of the local paper.
 

Pro-monument protesters on June 20, 2020. Photo by Tammy Rockwell

 

Bad Behavior Encouraged Dissent

The poor behavior by current and former County Commissioners seems to have encouraged some people to demonstrate more. It has also encouraged some to come to check the scene out. But as Jared Wielfaert wrote it is hard to be neutral once you get there. A 50 year Cleveland resident who had not previously been bothered by the statue came to a night of demonstration which resulted in the following post n Facebook.

Ian Harper:

The question was asked yesterday (of someone else, not of me, but I’m going to answer it as if it were me) why I was suddenly offended by the Confederate monument after passing by it for 40 years.
 
(this post is not a forum for people to argue, I’m just telling you about my recent evolution)
 
Simple answer is that until about three weeks ago, I didn’t give it a thought – I used the monument to give directions: “you go down Ocoee Street, you know the Monument? Yep, go past the Monument and it’s in the next block on the left”, but (and this is the important part), I’m not a black man. I’m not a bad guy, and I’ve always known that as a white man in the US, I’m at the top of the food chain. Shoot, as a white Protestant man in the US, I’m really at the top of the food chain. But I’ve never really done anything about it.
So, I didn’t give it a thought until the subject was brought up over the last few weeks – even when the subject was brought up nationally, I didn’t give “our monument” a thought at all (but then, I’m not a black man). I went over to the Monument to read what is inscribed on it, and as far as monuments go, it is pretty benign. On one side it says: “TO OUR KNOWN AND UNKNOWN CONFEDERATE DEAD”- benign, but then, I’m not a black man. On another side, it says: “MAN WAS NOT BORN TO HIMSELF ALONE BUT TO HIS COUNTRY” – which I believe comes roughly from the Latin “Non Nobis Solum Sed Omnibus”, or “Not for ourselves only, but for all” – IDK, I’m a little confused about this, and why it is on a Confederate monument. I have some thoughts but haven’t spent enough time thinking and reading about it. I am aware of why it was placed, in 1910, by the Daughters of the Confederacy. It would be worth the reader’s time to investigate when and why these monuments were placed.
 
Anyhow, my initial thought was that there must be better things to protest within the BLM movement.
 
I’d been down to the protest a couple of times but wasn’t really involved. Last night though, I went down to say hello to the protesters, and arrived in the middle of an 8:46 period of silence. The moment was profound to me. I stayed until the end of the protest. The BLM folk were playing MLK’s April 3, 1968 (the day before he was murdered) Memphis speech. Inexplicably, the counter protesters were surrounding the Confederate Monument with American and Trump flags, while playing patriotic United States of America anthems. It makes me wonder if the counter protesters understand that particular lack of logic. One of the organizers, who had co-written an article in the Banner, told us that his life had been threatened (even more than it had always been threatened during his entire Black existence) since the publication of the op-ed, and since the disgusting article by Dan Rawls was published.
 
The protesters were/are peaceful. They are not slinging insults towards the counter protesters. They are not defacing the Monument. They are not trying to pull it down. They are asking that it be moved to a place where it can be displayed in context. They didn’t try to provoke anyone, even when the guy on the motorcycle drove down Ocoee Street throwing up a Hitler salute, or when the big white diesel truck drove by several times revving its engine and flipping the bird at the protesters, or when the Blue Mustang drove by repeatedly goosing the accelerator to a point where the driver almost turned his car sideways and came close to losing control of it.
The effect of last night’s protest was to put me, as best as I am able, in the place of people who, for their entire lives, have been confronted with attitudes, practices, and symbols designed to let them know that they just aren’t as good as we are.
 
I have no frame of reference as a black man. The best I can do right now is to listen to a different lived experience, and see what I can do to help. Empathy should be a minimum requirement to be a decent human being.
 
So, that’s my recent evolution. I am sorry that it has taken me this long to understand how useless my inaction has been.
 
Ian and his wife were at the demonstration the following night.
 

Protest and Provocation

All indications are that June 20th was the most contentious evening with pro-monument protesters trying to provoke demonstrators. Jared Weilfaert’s piece above speaks to that night. Saturday, June 27th also saw efforts from the pro-monument protesters to instigate conflict. In fact, when we first arrived at the demonstration there was a man, a local realtor, wearing an American flag wrapped around is his face and shoulders like a scarf yelling, “Is it worth dying for?” Later, he called across the street, “Which of you Chickenshits is going to come over here first?” and “I can take all y’all!” At times, this protestor sought to walk through the demonstrators and at one point tried to walk into the middle of the group as they were preparing for the 8:46 remembrance of George Floyd.

There were about half a dozen protesters who spent the entire time, about two hours, heckling the demonstrators. During the 8:46 time of silence, they yelled across the street to disrupt and they accused the local demonstrators of being from out of town. They yelled:

“Where are you from?”
“Welcome to Cleveland.”
“Tip your waitress.”
“Did they get yo a good hotel?”
“Enjoy your continental breakfast.”
“Tell me how much you are making. Maybe I’ll come to your side.”
“Y’all in high school? Y’all doing this for extra credit?”
“Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do.”
“You better be kneeling for Jesus!”
“Nothing we can do to fix 160 years ago. Time to move on.”
“Y’all are the racists!”
“Corona is a scam!”
“Wake up Sheep. Your masks are doing nothing. You’re being controlled!”
“Cat got your tongue? Y’all are just chicken sh*t.”
“Trump has done more for the Black man than any president!”
“This isn’t about race, it’s about socialism destroying America.”
“Y’all are just anarchists.”
“Just a bunch of communists!”
“George Soros is funding all these!”
“We’re the examples of good Christians over here!”

There were also bizarre calls such as, “When’s the last time y’all washed your clothes? Y’all look like you haven’t bathed in a while.” Additionally, they picked out certain individuals to call out. They noticed one professor from the seminary who they repeatedly called out. They oddly called out Franco for wearing yellow pants accusing him of not washing them. At one point the pro-monument protestors took a photo of a demonstrator’s baby. That upset him and he overreacted. But, once they saw they got the reaction they yelled, “Is it take your baby to a protest day? Who takes a baby to a protest? Oh, don’t cry. You’re a big boy. Someone get a picture of that baby!”

The demonstration requires participants to wear masks due to public health concerns. The protestors, very few of whom wear masks, enjoyed mocking that claiming that COVID-19 was fake and calling out the “sheep.” Anytime they saw someone without a mask they liked to attack them.

The protester who at the beginning called, “Is it worth dying for?” Also, said things like, “As long as Trump is for Jesus, I’m for Jesus.” Another called out accusing the demonstration leader of being a pedophile. 

The demonstrators stood, or kneeled, quietly for two hours enduring the heckling. It was a surreal experience. 

 

Demonstrating Under the Threat of Violence

I have mentioned previously that both Kelsey and Franco have received death threats. Those came disturbingly quickly. But, the threats have expanded. I have seen threats that have been messaged to white demonstrators. I have heard threats of violence called out across the street. In some ways, the more disturbing threats have been the general threats that point to the inevitability of harm coming to the demonstrators. One Social media post included the following statements:

“Some parents are going to be very sad that they, if this crap continues, will be burying there little white Sally’s and Chad’s over something they’ve never experienced”

“If you have a son or daughter who is all about this b l m crap you better have a discussion with them that if this goes down the path that it is headed, 1865 will repeat itself.”

“wake the hell up or you will be visiting a grave with your sons or daughters name on it, they are not playing with fire they are playing with a cancer that will get culled.”

“Regular folks are starting to say no. And regular folks don’t put rubber bullets in there guns. They’re won’t be warning shots or tear gas when people who’ve had enough of this nonsense rise up.”

The demonstrators are aware of the very real danger that is presenting itself. They have been followed home. They have been verbally accosted at the gas station. At least one demonstrator has had their house vandalized. Some have been followed home and then disturbed by repeated Dixie horns when their lights go out for the night… hours after returning home.

This is the voice of Confederate support. This is the angry response that happens when demonstrators stand quietly and peacefully every night seeking change.

 

Pro-monument Perspective

I clearly come to this article with a perspective. This piece is editorial not just reporting. But, I do try to be fair. I try to give context to the pro-monument side even if do not agree. Once this article began to circulate some who support the monument began to take issue and claim the article was biased. When I sought clarification on what made this repository biased the response was that I did not interview any pro-monument voices. I have not interviewed anyone for this piece, but it is a fair critique that the voices I have collected from around social media have all been in favor of the demonstrations to remove the monument. As a result, I offered to consider publishing other perspectives that were found on social media or sent to me. So far only one person have given me permission to publish their perspective.

LeAnne Goforth wrote in response to this article:

Wow you are totally unbiased!! Maybe you need some perspective. First of all the minute you hold up a BLM sign you are supporting a racist organization. They have no intentions of peace and harmony, they are all about only black people. The poor ignorant misguided white people who think they are battling for equality are being duped!
 
Secondly you have some little tart who just because she came here and went to Lee thinks she has the right to mandate something be taken down because it offends her? That’s her problem! The monument didn’t stop her from coming here and I bet it didn’t bother her when she passed by it going to class where she probably had a scholarship to. If it did she should have picked some place different to go to!
 
Third well it’s so nice of you to give clevelanders your interpretation of what YOU think the statue means, it’s totally irrelevant!!
 
Lastly you think people should wait for BLM rioters to topple our monument and desecrate our historical sites before we get pissed off? Well take a good look what these idiots are doing all over this country. This is one small town that is saying no you won’t before get a chance to do it.
 
So yea your opinion is pretty irrelevant!!
I tried to gain some clarity on some of her points by asking:
LeAnne , a couple of questions if you don’t mind. 1) What makes you feel that weeks of peaceful demonstration will result in riots and the desecration of historical sites? 2) why do you assume that the young woman who started the petition has a scholarship to Lee? 3) What do you believe the monument means?
Thank you.
To which LeAnne responded:
Rondall Reynoso to answer your questions… 1) the mere fact that people who are pro monument have been out there will help to discourage some fools who think they can come and destroy it. I’m not saying all people who are out there on either side are going to get violent, but I do know that there is always some element that wants to take things in a different direction. People showing that they aren’t going to allow this to happen will hopefully be a deterrent .2) I assume that because if she came here like most do to tour the campus that the statue would have offended her then? So why go to school in a place that makes you uncomfortable , if that’s what her claim is. Also a good portion of the kids that go to Lee get scholarships.3) that monument is a thank you to the many men and boys who lost their lives during the civil war. Much like a grave stone marker. It is also something that says to me at least that we are proud of our roots and how this community has given the lives of our young to help make America what it is today. Maybe that’s a hard thing for some to understand because they haven’t been taught history or they didn’t grow up with history around them. That doesn’t make it their right to move it or tear it down or anything else! In my opinion if you haven’t had family from here for more than 3 generations you really don’t have a say so one way or the other
I am open to posting other opinions but as near as I can tell this is a fairly representative response. 
 

Disorderly Conduct

There have been rumors that the demonstrators are violent. For the most part, this seems to be entirely unfounded. But, some do point to an incident early on in the protests. I was not there on that night so I am relying on testimony from several who were. 

In the first week of the demonstrations, the demonstrators would position themselves around the monument. On one evening they wrapped a tarp around the base of the monument. The police were called. When the police arrived they removed the tarp angering a young male who proceeded to yell at them. Rather than recognizing his first amendment rights, the police inappropriately arrested him for disorderly conduct. The charges were later dropped. As far as I can tell, this is the extent of the “violence” perpetrated by the demonstrators. After this incident, Franco took on a leadership role within the demonstrations, moved them across the street, and instituted a no engagement policy all in an effort to avoid the escalation which some have tried to provoke.

 

Private Property

When the demonstrations began, everyone believed the monument belonged to the city. Shortly after the demonstrations began, it was discovered that the monument which has a 10′ x 10′ base sites on a 12′ x 12′ piece of land that was purchased from the city by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911. It seems that in the intervening years, knowledge of this transaction had been lost and until recently the city did not know they did not own the land and the local chapter of the UDOC did not know they owned the land. Once the local chapter discovered this they made a statement that was covered by the local paper

Here are a few highlights of that coverage:

Linda Ballew, president of the UDOC, said an “overwhelming majority of Cleveland residents are rallying around our beloved Cleveland monument,” adding the organization will “never compromise.” 

Ballew said the organization is preparing for possible litigation and promised it would not compromise.

“Members of the UDOC have unanimously expressed this view, and will never waiver,” Ballew said. “Be assured Cleveland residents: the UDOC believes that the monument stands for all the fathers, husbands, sons and brothers that never returned home from the war.” 

“The UDOC has never been and never will be a racist organization,” she said. “The war was fought over 150 years ago. Debating the war could go on forever. We choose to honor all veterans as Americans, as it should be.  Wecannot (sic) be held responsible for what others did.”

The private ownership of the monument has been a convincing argument for many Clevelanders who simply say “They won’t move it.” For them, that ends the story. Others are far less convinces that this settles the issue.

 

The “Compromise”

City Councilman who represents the portion of Cleveland where the monument exists is thus far the only public official to try and develop a plan to move forward. He published a piece in the paper explaining his plan. Here is the portion of the article that articulates the plan:

This brings me to the Confederate monument. Regardless of my personal thoughts, opinions and feelings, I recognize this is a complex issue. This statue does not exist in a vacuum, but has become part of a bigger narrative with many facets and complexities that few have the historical knowledge, time and wisdom to properly understand, myself included.
 
This statue is not the problem, but a symbol for deep and complex problems facing our nation and Cleveland. These problems do not have easy solutions, but they are worth our attention and efforts.
 
If the monument arguments have taught us anything, it is that history matters. How we treat people matters. We are not only debating the meaning of the past, but creating our own history in the process. Let’s write a history that shows members of our community standing up for what they believe while showing dignity and respect to those who expressed views different than their own.
 
With this in mind, on July 13, I am going to ask my colleagues on the City Council to discuss a local solution to the divisiveness of the Confederate monument.
 
I am going to propose we take four steps in moving forward together.
 
• First, I will recommend we move the Grand Army of the Republic memorial from Fort Hill Cemetery to the north side of the confederate statue on North Ocoee and Broad streets.
• Second, that we rebuild this GAR memorial to its original design.
• Third, that we place a plaque between the two memorials directing readers to the History Branch of the Cleveland Bradley Public Library across the street for context.
• And finally, that we ask the Cleveland Bradley Public Library to add a permanent exhibit in the branch focusing on the history of our community as it pertains to these memorials.

Thus far, while the County Commission who has sought to inflame issues seems amenable to this solution few who oppose the monument find this compromise to be much of a compromise. The demonstrators do not support it. As near as I can tell, there is little to no support for this solution in the Black community. The local NAACP leadership stands firmly behind the removal, not a compromise in this situation as does the leadership of the demonstrators. In fact, it seems there was no attempt to communicate with the Black community prior to proposing this compromise. I do not have a response from any Black leaders in the Cleveland community that I have permission to publish but I would very much like to include voices from the Black community. So, please send me your perspectives with permission to publish. (As a side note I only publish content made public or with permission.)

My thoughts are not what is important here. This is a monument that dishonors the Black community in Cleveland, TN, and celebrates a heritage that enslaved their ancestors and harms them to this day. Their perspective on this situation should be given primary deference. 

 

Black Lives Matter

“Black Lives Matter is a racist organization.” “Black Lives Matters is Marxist.” 

I see these refrains on social media, hear them shouted from the pro-monument protestors, and sometimes hear them shouted from cars that pass by. Too many people dismiss the phrase “Black lives matter” for these reasons.

The phrase “Black lives matter” is not a negation of the value of other lives. It is an affirmation that the lives which our nation has historically least valued do, in fact, matter despite the continuation of that history into the present. When Franco gathers the demonstrators together to prepare them for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds remembering George Floyd he occasionally speaks about how the phrase “Black lives matter” is a lament born out of the pain from the killing of Treyvon Martin. It is a cry to a culture that often fails to recognize that Black lives matter… also. The cry is not merely a lament but a declaration of strength. 

I do not know if any demonstrators are a part of the official Black Lives Matter. I know many who are not. But, the cries against the organization are all a distraction. The statement is what is important.  Demonstrators are affirming that in a culture that too often does not recognize the value of Black lives that Black Lives do, in fact, Matter. That reality was the lament after the murder of Treyvon Martin and that is the lament of many people today.

 

A Continuing Story

The demonstrators who want the monument moved claim they will stay engaged until it is gone. The pro-monument protesters seem no less committed. I will continue to add to this page as the story develops and as new chapters information presents.

 

 

Rondall Reynoso

Rondall is an artist, scholar, and speaker. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. He holds an MFA in Painting and an MS in Art History from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and is completing a Ph.D. in Art History and Aesthetics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

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