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 9/26/20)**

To share this video visit Emancipate Cleveland on Facebook.

Table of Contents

As this article has grown over the last few weeks it has become necessary to add a table of contents. Each section of this article is linked within the Table of Contents.

SECTIONS

  1. It Began
  2. Some Historical Context
  3. The Demonstrations Began
  4. Leadership Emerges
  5. Public Officials and Provocateurs
  6. Voices of Support
  7. The Thoughtful Approach
  8. Inciting Violence
  9. Bad Behavior Encourages Dissent
  10. Protest and Provocation
  11. Demonstrating Under the Threat of Violence
  12. Pro-monument Perspective
  13. Disorderly Conduct
  14. Private Property
  15. The “Compromise”
  16. Black Lives Matter
  17. Preaching Hate?
  18. Putting a Positive Spin on the Trail of Tears
  19. Silence Incites Rage
  20. A Conservative Response of Disappointment
  21. No Governmental Will to Do Right
  22. An Anti-Racist Monument Proposal
  23. Is it Private Property?
  24. Why the Property’s Ownership Matters
  25. No History of Racial Problems?
  26. Jesus’ Favorite Color is White
  27. #EmancipateCleveland
  28. Anti-Racist Monument Presented to City Leaders
  29. Slow Positive Progress
  30. Hope and Betrayal
  31. What are the Legal Questions?
  32. A Transitioning Story
  33. A Continuing Story

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 Osborne, 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 [sic] 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 local paper clarified that they were not notified of the Unity Walk and would have covered it if they had been notified.) 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.

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 demonstrators want to make a clear statement that they are not damaging the monument. The demonstration has adopted a non-engagement model as 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, the pro-monument protestors 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.

By Jared Wielfaert:

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

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.

Photo by Pamela Reynoso

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, against 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 on 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.

Photo by Pamela Reynoso

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.

Demonstrators kneeled in silence during the 8 minute and 46 second remembrance of George Floyd. Photo by Pamela Reynoso

 

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.

Photo by Pamela Reynoso

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.

Demonstrators bowed in prayer during the demonstrator’s “Family Time.” Photo by Pamela Reynoso

 

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 convinced that this settles the issue.

 

The “Compromise”

A 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.

This skull masked Confederate flag wielding protestor has been the most consistent of pro-monument protesters. Photo by Pamela Reynoso

Thus far, while the County Commissioner 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 in remembrance of 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 organization. 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 it continues as the lament of many people today.

 

Preaching Hate?

Wednesday nights are normally quiet at the demonstration as there are few pro-monument demonstrators. But on July 8th, a couple of preachers came out. One preacher, in particular, began equating sin with blackness claiming that “sin is resembled as black” in scripture. A short video clip of the preacher went semi-viral on Tiktok receiving almost 70,000 views last I heard.

@conciergemariee

THE WHITE EVANGELICAL CHURCH IS A VEHICLE FOR OPPRESSION #blacklivesmatter #confederateflagisracist #racistpastors #racistchristians

? original sound – Lindz

To be fair, the pastor does argue that “the righteousness of God…drives out the oppressiveness of racism.” But, he was standing under a Confederate monument preaching at a group of demonstrators who are advocating for the value of Black lives. A group that included Black individuals. The context could not have been worse for this sort of sermon and certainly, the racist interpretation of this sermon is understandable in this context.

After the above video got traction the pastor took to Facebook to defend himself…by doubling down. I actually watched all 42 minutes of his video and interacted with him some afterward. One of the most troubling things about his defense was theological. He argued, “What I want you to know today is that I’m not a racist. Not because I am saying it but because God has delivered me from the darkness of sin. Now, the only way a true Christian could be a racist is if they choose to walk away from the faith. That is it. Those that walk in the spirit who live by faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, they will reap the things of the Spirit.” He went on to say, “The spirit of God won’t allow me to be a racist. The spirit of God won’t allow you to be a racist.”

Certainly, God is against racism. It is a vile sin. But, even a cursory understanding of church history in the United States will demonstrate that the Church and Christianity have often stood on the wrong side of this issue. We are complicated beings who can love God and hold to ideas which He hates. The fact that someone is a Christian does not mean that they cannot also be racist. It does mean that they should not be racist. But, we too often fail to live up to our high calling.

This pastor tries to be reasonable at the beginning. But, gets pretty emphatic by the end. He seems to have no comprehension that the spiritual idea of darkness, as in without light, is not the same as black and that when you stand under a confederate statue and preach like that to protestors who contend that Black Lives Matter, it puts your words in a context. I believe him, that he was not trying to be racist. But, he has zero comprehension of the cultural racism that his actions support which is a huge part of the problem.
I had wanted to share the entire exchange I had with this pastor. But, he has asked that I do not because he views the published TikTok and most of the narrative around his sermon to be a “false narrative.” So, I will share a short synopsis of his perspective along with my last comment in the discussion. The pastor flatly condemns the mistreatment of people based on their nationality or color. He finds it “sickening.” But, he also believes that it is the truth of the gospel he is preaching that is causing offense in this area not how he is articulating it, and argues that his accountability is to God alone and refuses to be shamed. Here is my final response to him:
There is no doubt that your accountability is to God. I have not asked that you back down from presenting the gospel. I have only suggested that using extra-biblical language to describe sin was unwise given the context. It presented a message different than what you profess. Together the extra-biblical language and the context presents the idea you do not support the Biblical notion that we are all “one blood.” I believe you when you say that is not the case. The truth is not where offense lies. At least not with anyone with whom I’ve spoken. The offense lies with the apparent support of unbiblical ideas. I understand that is not what you meant to say. But, it is how it was taken by many. I am not advocating shame. I am advocating that a minister of the gospel is by calling a peacemaker, not to compromise with sin but to clear up miscommunication. You honored the invitation to attend an event in the shadow of a monument dedicated to those who fell in a war, fighting to preserve the sin of slavery. I am inviting you now to come and watch from the perspective of those who advocate for the biblical notion that all nations come from one blood, who believe that Phillip was led to the side of the Ethiopian Eunuch because God values the lives of our black brothers.
The pastor has never retracted his extra-biblical claim that sin is “black” nor has he honored an invitation to experience the demonstrations from the other side as he did with an invitation he received from the pro-monument side.

Putting a Positive Spin on the Trail of Tears

One never knows what is going to be said from the pro-monument protestors. Recently, their attendance has been down from the large crowds a few weeks ago. They now often only have a couple of protesters. Many of them though, like to heckle or even just talk the whole time. One night this man began talking about his Cherokee ancestor. “My third great grandmother was a Cherokee who lived here. They carried all her people off to Oklahoma. But you know what, it preserved them as a people. If the Cherokee had stayed here you wouldn’t even know who they were. Wouldn’t even recognize them.” I don’t think this needs any more commentary.

@conciergemariee

#blacklivesmatter #confederateflagisracist #bipoc #cherokee #indigenous

? original sound – Lindz

Passer’s by raising fists in solidarity with the demonstrators. Photo by Pamela Reynoso

 

Silence Incites Rage

One of the most telling parts of this experience over the last few weeks has been to see the reactions of the cars that drive by. I do not want to pretend that those who oppose the monument always behave well. There have been times when I have seen them flip of the pro-monument protestors. I have heard them say things which I wish they would not. But, they are few. On the other hand, it is a regular event for those who support the monument to drive by flipping off the demonstrators, revving their engines (especially the diesel pick-ups so that smoke billows at the demonstrators), yelling things, and cursing at the demonstrators. There is something so visceral and angry about these responses. Last week, there was even a guy in a truck who sped up and swerved hard toward the demonstrators. He then quickly flipped an illegal u-turn, almost losing control and hitting a tree. He then stopped his truck and yelled angrily at the demonstrators before speeding off. The rage and hate were palpable.

Early on in the demonstrations, there was a lot of yelling by the demonstrators which eventually led to the incident with the police mentioned above. But as Franco took the lead of the group, the approach evolved to meditative silent non-engagement. The demonstrators do not yell. They don’t even talk to the pro-monument protesters. The demonstrators stand silently with signs sometimes with fists raised in solidarity. They kneel silently twice each evening for 8:46 after Franco talks briefly in what he calls “Family Time.” And they go home.

This approach often seems to be so triggering. Many times pro-monument protesters cross the street to try and force engagement. Sometimes very aggressively- sometimes less so. I remember one time during this when it was so obviously a tactic to try and force an angry response from the demonstrators, a black woman demonstrator walking away shaking her head saying under her breath, “I just can’t understand the hate.”

Obviously, few if any of the pro-monument protesters who go out to the monument would say they want to support hate. There is always another reason. But for those who stand there demonstrating day after day, the hate just below the surface seems painfully obvious. A few days ago, one pro-monument protester was saying that he was out there to protect free speech. Now, he didn’t seem too concerned about the free speech of the demonstrators to show their disapproval of the monument. He was interested in protecting the free speech of those long dead who had raised the monument in 1910. Tellingly though, he spent an hour yelling across the street heckling and talking at the demonstrators. The silence of the demonstrators contrasted with the continual heckling and talking of the pro-monument demonstrators is powerful and gives a glimpse into the hearts of those who stand near the monument each evening.

Photo by Pamela Reynoso

A Conservative Response of Disappointment

One of the challenges in this entire situation has been the silence from most city officials. This silence prompted a letter from a former Chairman of the Bradley County Republican Party to the editor of the local newspaper entitled “Highly disappointed in elected officials: Move the statue.” The entire text is republished here with the permission of the author.

Photo by Pamela Reynoso

To The Editor:

The recent debate in Cleveland regarding the appropriateness of the Confederate monument located at the intersection of North Ocoee and Broad streets has prompted my observations and opinion. While not a current resident, I spent 40 years in Cleveland and Bradley County and still consider it my home. I have family and friends there, and I visit often. I follow the news carefully.

For those who may not know or remember, I served most of the 1990s as the chairman of the Bradley County Republican Party. I worked for the election of numerous officeholders, both past and present. I have deep roots in the community, not only because of my work in politics, but also as a community leader and volunteer.

The debate over such monuments has always troubled this southern boy whose ancestors fought and died for the Confederacy. I also descend from a lengthy line of slave owners. I am not proud of these facts.

From my earliest days, I was always conflicted about honoring Confederate soldiers. After all, did they not fight to preserve slavery, one of the most heinous institutions in human history? If the South had won, would we not be left with two nations, both weaker as a result?

The counter-argument has been that while everyone today recognizes the evil of slavery and supports the United States, these monuments are here to honor our southern past and our forefathers. They are part of our heritage, part of our culture. Our ancestors fought for a cause in which they believed. We should honor them, even if they were wrong. I find this argument dishonest.

I do not think most Americans would appreciate a monument to Benedict Arnold. He was the American Revolution’s most famous traitor. To honor him and the Loyalists who fought against our Continental Army would be unthinkable. Were not these supporters of the British Crown also fighting for a wrong, but honorable cause?

All the Confederate monuments sprang up in the Jim Crow era, a period after the Civil War when federal troops withdrew from the South. That time extended until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. During that era, the southern states once again exerted control. They suppressed the former slaves and their descendants, denied them voting rights, and instituted segregation. The monuments constructed during that time convey these sentiments, and these facts resist efforts to reinterpret that history today.

I am disappointed — but not surprised — that no elected official, as of yet, either city or county, has announced their support for removing this Confederate statue. It seems they are content to hide behind a 1911 deed the city of Cleveland conveyed to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Chapter 900. It gave them a twelve-foot square piece of land on which they built the monument.

These officials shrug and say the statue sits on private property. The issue is out of their hands. This argument is convenient, but disingenuous. City officials have an array of options, including eminent domain, to force the issue. Real leadership calls for those in power to stand up and do the right thing even if it flows against the tide of public opinion.

City Councilman Bill Estes has offered a compromise to relocate the Union memorial currently situated in Fort Hill Cemetery to stand alongside the Confederate one. But this idea too misses the point. His solution glosses over the brutal history of what the Confederacy and the Jim Crowe era entailed. Interpretative signage is insufficient. It will not appease the pain many Americans see when they look up at a Confederate memorial.

Remove the monument. Relocate it to the nearby Confederate Cemetery. If people want to honor their Civil War ancestors, do it there, in private. But let us no longer recognize our Confederate past in the public square. An honest accounting of that time should be remembered and taught, but only in our history books and museums.

— Michael Willis
Asheville, N.C .

Photo by Pamela Reynoso

No Governmental Will to Do Right

Over the weeks of the demonstration, there has been a clear movement in public opinion. The amount of support from the everyday fold of Cleveland, TN has surged. As the nation saw support for the Black Lives Matter movement rise sharply over the last month our small town has seen the support for the demonstrations rise. The strong, quiet testimony of demonstrators peacefully calling for the removal of the monument has had an impact. Many who have come out to view the protests have been impacted by the grace of the demonstrators in the face of vitriol. This article tells several such stories.

A few nights ago, I decided to spend my time out at the demonstration tracking the responses of those who drove by. A month ago, demonstrators were mostly met with cursing and “flip-offs” from those who drove by. There was support but often quiet and certainly far less frequently. I spent almost 90 minutes ignoring my wife and other demonstrators as I counted each response that supported the monument versus each response that supported its removal. By the time the sun had set enough that it was difficult to continue counting, I had observed 131 demonstrations of support for the demonstrators as opposed to 37 demonstrations of support for the pro-monument demonstrators. That is 78% affirming the demonstrators. Certainly, there were plenty who drove by without showing support either way. But, the movement in the perspective of the community is palpable.

Unfortunately, the silence from the city leadership is also palpable. The racialized antics of County leadership has been documented here. But, when it comes to the City the mayor made a disappointing statement early on where he essentially passed the buck. Only one other city official has said anything publicly. That is the City Councilman who put forward the “Compromise” discussed above.

I had a discussion today with an elected City Official that left me sad. After the conversation, it was clear to me that Cleveland’s city government has no intention of taking moral leadership on this issue. It is viewed as a non-starter that any significant progress can actually be made. The “compromise,” which creates a false moral equivalency between the Confederacy and the Union, is viewed as the only viable option. But, it is an option that places a 6-foot monument to the Union dead in the shadow of a 28-foot monument to the Confederate dead and seeks to contextualize them by placing a text panel on a traffic island that is paced by 10,000 cars a day but seldom visited by pedestrians. Sadly, I was flatly told that no other option could receive 4 votes from the City Council and that the Mayor would veto anything else.

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” This is not a time for the “reasonable” pragmatist. It is a time for a city to make a moral stand that refuses to adapt to our racialized world and instead actively pursues doing right. Confederate statues are being removed all around the south. But, in Cleveland, TN there is no political will to stand for what is right.

Photo by Pamela Reynoso

An Anti-Racist Monument Proposal

Recently, I have been influenced by Ibram X. Kendi’s argument that one is either racist or anti-racist. I believe it is important for Cleveland to make an anti-racist statement at this time. Taking down the monument would be a clear anti-racist statement. But we can use this opportunity to make an anti-racist monument even if the United Daughters of the Confederacy is not compelled to remove the monument. An anti-racist monument would be an enduring statement readily visible for residents and visitors to Cleveland.

As an idea developed, I decided to put together a Concept Paper. I began by distributing it to the Black community in Cleveland since this issue must center those who are most profoundly impacted by it. After receiving broad support I have begun to circulate it more broadly. This article is the first public presentation of the concept. I won’t spend a lot of time detailing the idea here other than to link to the Concept Paper which goes into detail.

I believe this is something that Cleveland could do if there is the political will to change the city’s narrative and take a stand against a racialized system.

Digital Illustration by Jordan Holt

Is It Private Property?

For weeks, the settled narrative has been that the 12′ x 12′ plot of land on which the monument rests is privately owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This narrative has allowed the City to avoid acknowledging responsibility for the monument and, for many people, it has shut down even entertaining the idea that that the monument can be moved. Since private property is sacrosanct.

However, there is a wrinkle in this narrative. Until a few weeks ago, the UDOC had no idea that they owned the property. The proof on which this narrative rests is a line from the minutes of a city meeting in 1911 when the city declared the intention to transfer ownership of the land to the UDOC. But to this point, no one has produced a deed for the piece of property not even to the County Assessor of Property. There has been no documentation produced that actually shows that there was follow through on the intention to transfer the property.

Does the land belong to the United Daughters of the Confederacy? Maybe. But without a deed, it is far from certain at this point.

 

Why the Property’s Ownership Matters

As pointed out above, the actual ownership of the small plot of land on which the Confederate monument is in doubt. Why does this matter? The city has largely taken the position that they can’t do anything about it because it is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They have been able to pass the buck and not take any responsibility. Many in Cleveland feel the issue is settled because those who own the property don’t want to move it.

In many ways, it is easier to get the monument moved if it is just under the control of a private group. Easier, not easy. It will still be very difficult to convince this group that it should be moved. But, there is precedent in other states of the UDOC allowing their monuments to be moved.

If the Confederate monument sits on city-owned land, it falls under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act which requires specific permission from the state to move any Confederate monument even if it is on city land not state land. This act was passed in 2013 as a response to the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement. It was built for moments just like this. The New York Times said the Act shows “an express intent to prevent municipalities in Tennessee from taking down Confederate memorials.”

Without clear ownership, it is impossible to know exactly what steps need to be taken to address the monument. The city has not been forthcoming with the documents, if they exist, and are referring people to the city attorney who is not returning calls.

 

No History of Racial Problems?

Last week, on July 19th, a letter to the editor of the local newspaper was published with the title, “Race, statues, other problems? Read God’s Word.” This letter to the editor was problematic in many ways. But, what stood out to me was the line, “To my knowledge, there has never been racial problems in Cleveland or Bradley County.” As I said at the beginning of this document, I have only lived in Cleveland for a year. But, it was interesting to me that in single year I have heard so much more about the racial issues than this woman. That is likely part of the problem, people live in their blissful ignorance because these issues do not affect our white bodies.

Here are just a few of the racial issues I have learned about in my short time here:

      1. The Confederate Monument itself was raised during the Jim Crow era to honor those who died defending slavery by an organization that also built monuments to Ku Klux Klan leaders.
      2. In 1946, the KKK used the Confederate monument as a site to celebrate the initiation of a new class by burning crosses.
      3. In 1966, during the height of the Civil Rights movement, the segregated, all-Black College Hill School in Cleveland was burnt down. The College Hill Podcast is a great resource.
      4. The City declared eminent domain on Inman St. breaking up the Black business district but never ended up expanding Inman St. which was the reason for eminent domain.
      5. In 2016 & 2018 Congressional candidate Rick Tyler ran campaigns explicitly around the call to “Make America White Again.”
      6. I have also heard numerous stories about racist language being spewed toward people of color in this city which I have not heard personally but is strongly echoed out at the monument.
      7. If someone does not see “racial problems” they are not looking. I never went looking to find out the racist history of Cleveland. These are all things I have learned as someone willing to listen.

 

 

Jesus’ Favorite Color is White

On July 25th, a pro-Confederate monument protester argued that If you know Jesus you will know his favorite color. And what is his favorite color? White!

His evidence is to be expected-Jesus wears a white robe, rides a white horse, and sits on a white throne. Of course, Jesus is only said to have a white robe during the transfiguration and it was a supernatural white like light, and his face shown like the sun. The white horse and throne are spiritualized language from Revelation. However, when a white man stands under a Confederate monument proclaiming to a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators the extra-biblical claim that Jesus’ favorite color is white it takes on a very racialized, if not racist, context. In Revelation 7:9, the Bible speaks of people from every nation and tribe standing before Jesus clothed in white. I believe that Jesus cares more about the people pf all colors than their attire.

 

#EmancipateCleveland

Emancipate Cleveland (#EmancipateCleveland) was formed by citizens of Cleveland, TN shortly after the monument demonstrations began to support racial justice in Cleveland and Bradley County. The grassroots group has been working behind the scenes and is now taking a more forward position in organizing the demonstrations and releasing the video that is posted at the top of this article. Emancipate Cleveland released a statement introducing themselves to the community which resulted in an article in the local paper.

Photo courtesy of Emancipate Cleveland

This is the entire text of the Emancipate Cleveland Statement released to the paper:

#EmancipateCleveland is a grassroots collective of concerned citizens working to
create a more equitable Cleveland, Tennessee. We believe that equity in Cleveland means fair and impartial treatment and representation for all. Working toward that diversity and equity means giving our city’s Black community respect and, most importantly, a voice. The message that Black lives matter is central to these goals, but we are not affiliated with the organization Black Lives Matter.

Every night at 6:30 p.m., excluding Sundays, #EmancipateCleveland organizes
demonstrators across the street from the Confederate statue found at Ocoee and 8th Streets. Our group is made up almost entirely of local citizens. We are demonstrating to promote awareness of our Black community and ask that the statue be removed from its current location.

In cities across the country, officials are recognizing the pain these statues are causing
– and have caused – since they were erected in stealthy support of Jim Crow laws, and they are coming down. Protestors in some cities are taking matters into their own hands and destroying them.

Destroying this statue is not #EmancipateCleveland’s goal. We are asking for a
compromise. We would like to see it moved to a museum or cemetery, where it can better serve in the proper context of history. There are many outspoken in our community who are against #EmancipateCleveland and our demonstrations. Most are individuals who think this is a brand new problem because they have no experience in driving past the statue and seeing a monument glorifying the men and women who bought and sold their great-grandparents as property.

Even more telling is that those in protest of our demonstrations at the statue never
mention protecting the statue’s current location. Instead, they spend their time shouting threats, racial slurs and bigoted rhetoric in an attempt to incite violence.

County officials have encouraged these behaviors. A former county commissioner with
a long police record of theft and assault has even publicly called for violence against us.
Every night, those Confederates protesting against our demonstrators walk through the
parking lot to take photos of our license plates. They follow our demonstrators home. They drive by our homes in the middle of the night and honk horns that play “Dixie.” They commit vandalism in our yards.

This statue is a place that showcases the worst of Cleveland’s bigotry and hatred. In the
late 1940s, local papers reported the burning of crosses at the statue as part of an initiation ritual for a local Ku Klux Klan society. And today, protests try in vain to silence our Black community with fear and terror to protect the Confederate values of white supremacy.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, the racist organization who built the statue in our Union town, want us to believe their false narrative of the Lost Cause. They paint the picture that slaves were happy and enjoyed serving their masters instead of the reality of bondage, chains, beatings and rape. They tell us this statue represents soldiers from both sides, even when the statue itself explicitly states that is not the truth. They pretend the Civil War is distant history, when in fact, the last person to receive a U.S. government pension from the Civil War died only six weeks ago.

The Confederacy and the statues dedicated to it were always about white supremacy.
We cannot allow the UDC to continue to whitewash our history.

Our heritage, good and bad, must not be erased by them.

We are grateful to Mayor Kevin Brooks’ willingness to meet with members of
#EmancipateCleveland, and to councilman Bill Estes for his interest in finding a peaceful
resolution. It is our hope that working with them, and other leaders in our city, will create result in opportunities to give our Black community a voice at the table – strengthening our great city with spirit and diversity.

Moving the statue will not end racism in Cleveland.

The statue’s relocation will, however, send the clear message to the 3,500 Black
residents in our community that local officials hear their pain. It will tell tourists who come to our city that we will no longer tolerate a prominently placed monument to white supremacy. It will inform incoming students to our local colleges and university that we do not glorify the antiAmerican fight to leave the United States and keep Blacks as slaves. Finally, it will tell companies and industries seeking to bring their business to Cleveland that we will not allow an idol to exist for the racists in our community to worship.

 

Concept drawing by Jordan Holt of the three-arc version of the anti-racist monument.

Anti-Racist Monument Presented to City Leaders

The local Confederate monument here in Cleveland, Tennessee continues to inspire demonstrations and interest both within the local community and across the nation. Today, the City Council heard statements from the community. I spoke to them because I have put forward the idea of an Anti-Racist monument that is the subject of an article in today’s paper. While Council meetings are required to be public, the audio of the live stream was unintelligible so I have decided to publish my statement here as well as describe the discussion following my statement.

Thank you for allowing me to speak. My name is Rondall Reynoso. I moved to Cleveland last year for work. During the first few months here, I repeatedly heard excitement about Cleveland’s growth and how the city is drawing people from across this nation. A year later, it is very different. Today, I hear about how outsiders are not welcome and how we should keep our mouths shut until we have lived here for at least three generations.

When we drove into town that first day, my wife noticed the Confederate monument. It was literally the first thing about Cleveland that stood out to her. I’ve heard similar stories from others who moved to Cleveland. The monument is across the street from my work, a few blocks from my Church, and in the same neighborhood as my home. It has been a regular part of my life in Cleveland. For the last two months, it has been a center point in my life as I have stood with many others from the community, Hundred Black Men, NAACP, and Emancipate Cleveland.

I am part of Emancipate Cleveland, but I am not here representing them. I am here because as an artist and art historian I see an opportunity for the city. I know that there are those in the City Council who are seeking to be moderate and pragmatic. I understand that the city wants to avoid civil-unrest and the tension of the large demonstrations that may ensue when thousands of university students return in a few days. But I also remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice… who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable… who… constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” The Founding Fathers of our nation were unreasonable when the chose to stand against the world’s greatest superpower; Abraham Lincoln was unreasonable when he emancipated the slaves; Cleveland, Tennessee was unreasonable when 73% of citizens voted to support the Union, Martin Luther King Jr. was unreasonable when he worked to end the Jim Crow Era. Cleveland has a choice before it. We can choose to be moderate and wait for a more convenient season. Or, we can choose to lead in adapting the world to a more just vision of Cleveland’s future.

With that in mind, I ask the City Council to consider three points.

First, listen to the Black community. They are the ones affected by the generational harm of Confederate monuments that glorify a war fought to ensure their ancestor’s enslavement. The Council has heard from many in the Black community today and you know that they uniformly desire the removal of the Confederate monument.

Second, do not fall into the paternalistic trap of thinking that since something must be done, that a “compromise” which the Black community believes is unacceptable is the only option. Do not make the choice of forcing a compromise that is only supported within the white moderate community.

Third, consider this time in the City’s history not as a challenge that must be endured but as an opportunity to adapt the world. In your packet for this meeting, you have a Concept Paper for an Anti-Racist monument which has received support from the Black community and is the subject of an article in the Cleveland Banner today. The City has the opportunity to make an enduring statement against racism and to declare the beginning of a new epoch in racial relations. The Concept Paper has an option for the Black community’s desired outcome of removing the statue. There are also options for if the City is legally prohibited from removing the Confederate monument. Let’s not compromise. If we are forced to keep the statue in its current location, there are options that allow us to move forward and not compromise with icons of a racist past.

After my statement, Councilman Bill Estes, who has been the most accommodating to concerns about the monument and has put forward the compromise plan I reference in the second point above, expressed concerns about the legality of the Anti-Racist monument proposal. He then turned it over to the city attorney to explain. The city attorney argued that the concept would violate the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. That interpretation is problematic for several reasons.

  1. The city has been arguing for months that they can’t do anything about the statue because it is on private property and the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act only applies to public lands.
  2. He relied on the clause stating that memorials could not be concealed. But, the proposal in all its forms still allows the monument to be viewed and approached. My preferred articulation of the project still allows the monument to be seen even from the street (See Illustration). To argue that this would conceal the monument stretches the definition of the word conceal beyond reason.
  3. Even if the city attorney’s unlikely interpretation of the law is correct, the law still allows the city to petition the Tennessee Historical Commission.

The city attorney presented the objection as if it made the concept a non-starter. The reality, however, is that the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act neither applies to Cleveland’s Confederate Monument, would prevent the construction of the Anti-Racist monument, nor would be an obstacle that would end all options.

The reality is that Cleveland is at a crossroads. The city can continue its anachronistic devotion to a Jim Crow Era relic or it can embrace an anti-racist stance that honors all its citizens. It cannot do both.

 

Slow Positive Progress

It was good to see several articles about the monument removal movement covered in the local paper. This is the same paper that after the George Floyd murder failed to cover a Unity Walk with 1200-1500 participants. This is a nice change. The Daily Banner covered the statements from Angelique Ware from the NAACP, Sara Keel from #Emancipate Cleveland, and Pastor Aubrey Ector representing the Black clergy of the city. They presented a unified voice calling for the removal of the Confederate monument. The demonstration of the City Council meeting was also covered by Chattanooga news.

The local paper also covered, again, the idea of an anti-racist monument. The important new information from this article is that the Tennessee Department of Transportation confirmed that it does not own the land surrounding the monument. This is completely different from the city’s conclusions just the day before. Since the beginning of this movement, there have been questions about the ownership of the land on which the monument sits and the surrounding traffic island. This helps us get closer to answering those questions. There are meetings being scheduled which hopefully will help even greater clarity be gained.

 

Hope and Betrayal

The presentations to the City Council and the stories in the news eventually led to a call for a task force to look into the monument issue. On August 24th the City Council voted 4-3 to form such a task force. This was directly in response to a request from Emancipate Cleveland and a call from the editor of the Cleveland Banner to form a task force with representatives from all concerned parties including the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Emancipate Cleveland, the NAACP, and other concerned parties. The news was received as a victory by the leadership of Emancipate Cleveland. However, when the city formalized the Task Force on September 14th, they had changed it to a “Perseverance and Unity Education Study Group.” The city had decided not to even address the concerns about moving the monument. Despite the fact that some other southern cities have actively taken stands against Confederate monuments, even when they reside on private property. The City has taken the position that they do not have legal standing to even discuss what should happen to the monument. The Study Group will only look at setting up an off-site educational exhibition at either the historical library or the public library.

Not surprisingly, many who oppose the Confederate monument view this as a betrayal by the City Council. They promised and voted on a task force to look into the issue but delivered a study group that will not even address the issue. This result should not be surprising though. The city has claimed they cannot do anything. There are real legal questions about the positions taken by the city which will need to be answered.

 

What are the Legal Questions?

After proposing the anti-racist monument, I was invited to meet with city staff to discuss the monument. They allowed me to bring representation from the Black community and a lawyer. As a result of this meeting, I have a pretty clear understanding of the city’s positions and the questions that need to be answered. This is not a complete list but it gets at the main issues.

  1. Who owns the land on which the monument sits? Almost from the beginning of this issue the city has claimed they cannot do anything because the monument sits on private property. While that is not entirely true and there are avenues that can be taken even if the monument sits on private property, it is clear that there is no political will to tackle such issues. The entire argument that the land is owned by the UDC is based on the minutes from a City Council meeting on February 17th, 1911 in which is said the 12′ x 12′ plot of land on which the monument now sits “is hereby, sold, transferred and conveyed to the officers and members of the Jefferson Davis Chapter, United Daughters of Confederacy”. There is no deed for this piece of land. There is no evidence that after the sale of the land was authorized that it actually was sold. It is not even clear if the Jefferson Davis Chapter of the UDC was a legal entity at that point which could own land. It may be that the organization was, in fact, a legal entity that can own land and that Tennessee law would deem this sufficient proof of ownership even without proof of the sale being consummated. Likely that is a question the courts will have to answer.
  2. Who owns the land surrounding the monument? The monument sits on a triangular traffic island surrounded by three intersecting roads. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has stated to the local paper that they do not own the island. They only own one of the roads that is a state highway. However, the city online maps indicate that the state owns the island. They have done no research other than to look at the online county map. Based on this map, the city has decided that they can do nothing on this island, even though they have constructed sidewalks and planted plants on that island in the time period during which they claim the state-owned the land. We have a situation here where both the city and the state claim that the other party owns the land. Once again a court ruling will likely be needed here. Since the city is claiming that they do not own the land they are holding the position that they are not able to pursue either the Anti-Racist monument proposal or the Estes compromise, both of which are outlined above. It should also be noted that according to the city map the plot of land purportedly owned by the UDC is owned by the state. So clearly the map is not accurate even according to the city but they are unwilling to do additional research on the subject.
  3. How does the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act (THPA) apply to the monument? This act is a tough one. It is interesting that conservatives passed this law because it is big government telling small government what they can do with their own land which isn’t a very conservative position. Essentially, the law does not allow a local city or county to move or conceal a Confederate monument without getting explicit permission from the Tennessee Historical Commission. Further, if a city violates this law they cannot receive funding from the Tennessee Historical Commission for five years. I do not know how much Cleveland, TN receives from the Commission but understandably they don’t like the financial consequences of the law should they violate it. This applies if the monument sits on public land. The city is also taking the interesting position that the THPA would also prevent them from doing anything that could obstruct the view of the monument even if it is on private property because it is visible from public property. So essentially, the city is arguing that the THPA protects the monument whether it is on public or private property. This was their primary argument against the Anti-racist monument. They claimed they don’t own the land and even if they did they can’t conceal the monument. There is no clear legal definition of concealing in the law and it is clearly addressing situations other than what is proposed in the Anti-racist monument concept. I personally find their interpretation to be rather unlikely. But, at the very least, the Tennessee Historical Commission will have to weigh in on how they interpret the law and in this issue also a court decision may be needed in the end.

Ultimately, if anything is going to happen these questions will have to be answered. Until they are answered the City Council, despite having demonstrated their desire not to do anything, will be able to claim that their hands are tied. The reality is that the city does not want to do anything. Therefore, their objections will have to be handled before moving forward. Further, a coalition of support will have to be made. The city leaders transparently don’t want to take a stand when they can pass the buck. The movement to remove the monument will have to find answers to the objections that are allowing the Council to pass the buck and generate support from within the city to pressure the leaders to do the right thing. There are many churches, organizations, and businesses in this city that do not want to be seen as part of a racist southern town. Over the last 25 years, Cleveland has grown into what the city’s statement on the Perseverance & Unity Education Study Group calls a “very diverse multicultural and multinational community.” That diversity is incompatible with this monumental relic of the Jim Crow era.

 

A Transitioning Story

With the City’s decision to renege on the Task Force commitment, the organizers for the demonstrations have decided to move in a different direction. The September 25th demonstration at the monument was the last one for the immediate future. Emmanipate Cleveland has plans for other demonstrations and community work. A demonstration against the decision not to prosecute in the Breonna Taylor case is the first such demonstration planned. The local news covered the last monument demonstration. The demonstrators are not finished with the issue of the Confederate Monument. But, they also realize that without the will of the City Council to do right there are legal questions that need to be answered and the group needs time to redirect their efforts.

 

Fittingly, the final demonstration took place the same night as a “Trump Train”. The train dozens of cars and truck drove by the monument bearing their Trump flags, honking, and yelling. While most drove by circling for 20-30 minutes. Some stopped and joined the pro-monument protestors bringing their Trump and Confederate flags. Around 8:30 pm Emancipate Cleveland quietly packed up the demonstration, as they have for 15 weeks, and went home. We left to those standing under the monument bearing their flags signing, “nah nah nah nah hey hey hey goodbye.” It just seemed to encapsulate the contrast between the quiet pursuit of progress sought by the demonstrators and the provocation brought by those seeking to honor a heritage of hate and oppression.

If this were a group of black and brown people riding up and down Ocoee Street making this noise, we would have been…

Posted by Hiawatha Brown on Friday, September 25, 2020

A Continuing Story

For three months this story has been documented in this article. With the change in tactics, we don’t know what will happen in the future. Likely, Faith on View will continue to cover any major developments in the story. But, this chapter is ending and after over 16,000 words so is this article.

 

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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