Tennessee Historical Commission to review Nashville request to remove Confederate statue
The Private Confederate Soldier Monument in Nashville’s Centennial Park. (Photo: Nashville Public Library)
Nashville parks officials are seeking state approval to remove a monument of a Confederate soldier in Centennial Park, where the life-sized bronze sculpture of a young man sits holding a rifle across a field from the iconic Parthenon.
Their request for a waiver of state law that generally prohibits removal of memorials on public property will be heard February 17 by the Tennessee Historical Commission, a 29-member board — 24 whom are appointed by Gov. Bill Lee — that has the authority to approve or deny such requests by a two-thirds’ vote.
The request from the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation does not specify where the statue would be moved should the Commission agree; that destination remains to be determined, according to Jackie Jones, a department spokesperson.
It is the third request to weigh the fate of historical memorials the Commission has received in recent months.
Nonprofit caretakers of the pre-Civil War era Bridal House log cabin in Sumner County last month filed a complaint with the commission to prevent elected officials from giving the public monument to a private group. And attorneys for the Nashville suburb of Forest Hills filed suit against the commission in December over its refusal to allow city officials to rename streets with Confederacy-themed names.
The Private Confederate Soldier Monument, unveiled in a 1909 ceremony at a Confederates Veterans Association annual reunion, was vandalized in 2019, with the words “They were racists” in red paint. The perpetrator remains unknown.
Parks officials at the time discussed moving the monument, but settled instead on adding a marker providing context about the history of the statute.
Then, in 2020, after the deaths of George Floyd and Breana Taylor at the hands of law enforcement, the parks board revisited their decision over the “divisive symbol,” voting in January 2021 to petition the state’s historical commission to remove the statue.
The statue, the city’s petition argued, must be viewed in the context in which it was erected: an era in which Civil War veterans were engaged in a campaign of memorial building while African-American people were demanding equal rights and some state and local governments were strengthening Jim Crow laws.
“Memorials to the Confederacy served as potent reminders of actions being taken in order to maintain the power status quo,” the petition said.
After the Commission’s vote is publicly posted, it may be challenged in Chancery Court within 60 days, according to Caty Dirksen, a historic preservation specialist with the Tennessee Historical Commission.
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