Posted on October 25, 2021

Remove a Confederate Statue? A Tennessee City Did This Instead.

Jamie McGee, New York Times, October 24, 2021

For decades, when Hewitt Sawyers drove past the monument of the Confederate soldier standing tall in his city’s public square, he felt the weight of slavery’s long shadow.

Mr. Sawyers, 73, had attended a segregated school in Franklin, about 20 miles south of Nashville. He read from torn books passed down from the local white high school. The courthouse offered a “colored” water fountain, and the movie theater did not welcome him on the lower floor. As Confederate monuments across the South began to come down after a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he wanted the 37-foot local statue, known as “Chip,” gone, too.

“Chip represented a large part of the reason I was not part of the downtown arena,” Mr. Sawyers, a Baptist minister, said. “Every time I went around that square, it was a reminder of what had gone on.”

Mr. Sawyers and like-minded residents did not get the statue removed, but they have come up with a provocative response to it: a new bronze statue in Franklin’s public square depicting a life-size soldier from the U.S. Colored Troops, largely Black regiments that were recruited for the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

The new monument, which was unveiled Saturday before a crowd of hundreds, and five recently added markers tell the story of the market house where enslaved people were auctioned and the role that local Black men played in fighting for their freedom. Dubbed the Fuller Story, the four-year project led by Mr. Sawyers and three other local residents expanded the narrative of why and how the war was fought.

“Here is a Black man who was enslaved, who gave his life to go out to help free other people,” Mr. Sawyers said. “To be standing here, now, in the face of a statue that represents enslaving those people and to know that, because he was willing to do that, we won — what a powerful message.”

Franklin, a city of about 80,000 people, is in the wealthiest and fastest growing county in the state. Long known for its wide swaths of green pastures, it is now an economic hub for major corporations. Much of its tourism and identity centers on Civil War landmarks, with visitors touring Carnton, a farm that became a field hospital and burial ground for Confederate soldiers, and Carter House, a Confederate home engulfed in the gruesome Battle of Franklin. The seal of Williamson County, where Franklin is located, includes a Confederate flag and cannon.

That the Fuller Story project gained unanimous approval from city officials marks a significant evolution in how the community memorializes the Civil War.


Supporters also became cognizant of the legal hurdles they would face. The Confederate monument had been there since 1899. It was installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, with the figure’s hat chipped in the process, creating its enduring nickname. A 2013 state law had imposed new restrictions on removing memorials.


Franklin’s elected leaders, united on the Fuller Story’s approval, remain divided on whether the Confederate statue should be removed.


Any effort to relocate the statue is further complicated by a new agreement between the city and the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which objected to the Fuller Story project’s location and claimed ownership of the land. The city filed a lawsuit, seeking a judgment on ownership, and in a settlement, deeded the group the land directly under the Confederate monument. Should anyone seek its relocation, “we’ll fight that tooth and nail,” Doug Jones, an attorney representing the United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter, said.