Nashville Confederate monument to stay

By: - February 20, 2023 6:00 am
The Private Confederate Soldier Monument in Nashville's Centennial Park. (Photo: Nashville Public Library)

The Private Confederate Soldier Monument in Nashville’s Centennial Park. (Photo: Nashville Public Library)

A Confederate monument will remain in one of Nashville’s most-visited public parks after the Tennessee Historical Commission on Friday rejected the city’s efforts to move it.

The commission, whose 24 voting members are appointed by Gov. Bill Lee,  rejected a petition brought by Nashville parks officials to remove a life-sized statue of a Confederate soldier from Centennial Park, where it has sat across a field from an iconic replica of the Parthenon for more than a century.

The Metro Board of Parks and Recreation, the commission determined, failed to meet the burden of showing there was a need to move the bronze statue “based on historical or other compelling public interest.”

The law must be “liberally construed in favor of historic preservation,” the commission concluded.

The Private Confederate Soldier Monument was unveiled in 1909 during a reunion of a Confederate Veterans Association.

The statue has largely escaped public scrutiny over other Confederate monuments displayed in Tennessee public spaces, including the years- long controversy over the display in the Tennessee State Capitol of a bust of early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. The bust was removed in 2021.

The bronze statue of the young, unnamed Confederate soldier in Centennial Park was vandalized in 2019, with the words “they were racists” in red paint. Nashville park officials debated then moving the statue, but voted instead to add a marker providing historical context.

The marker was never added. The next year, after the deaths of George Floyd and Breana Taylor, the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation revisited the decision, with one board member calling the statue of the sitting soldier a “divisive symbol.” The board last year petitioned the historical commission for permission to remove it, but did not specify where it might go.

Macy Amos, Nashville’s attorney, argued on Friday the monument may not be a “memorial” at all, which would remove it from the commission’s oversight. The statue was dedicated to the Lost Cause ideology, she argued, referring to a reinterpretation of the Civil War rather than a historical event or individual. Metro officials were also concerned about the possibility of the statue again attracting vandalism.

H. Edward Phillips, an attorney representing the Sons of Confederate Veterans Joseph E. Johnston Camp 28 —which opposed the removal — argued the monument was in fact dedicated to individuals, noting that on it is inscribed the names of more than 500 soldiers, about half of whom had died at the time the memorial was erected.

The Tennessee Historical Commission has the authority to approve or deny petitions for waivers to the state’s Historic Preservation Act, which says that no memorial regarding a historic conflict, entity, event, figure or organization on public property may be moved or otherwise disturbed.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.