Written by Patrick Scriven
At the center of the Hamilton County courthouse stands a towering bust of A.P. Stewart, a Confederate lieutenant general during the Civil War. Erected in 1919, the bronze monument has received heightened attention in recent months and is now the subject of growing controversy in the Chattanooga area.
Several Hamilton County residents, including faculty members at Southern, have begun publicly denouncing the bust, pushing for its removal from the courthouse yard. In late September of this year, an official petition was brought before the Hamilton County Commission.
Kevin Burton, a professor in the history and political studies department, along with Lisa Diller, the department’s chair, were two of nine faculty members to formally present their case for the removal of the bust to the commission. Burton argued, among other things, that a courthouse is an inappropriate place for a confederate statue to be “immortalized and memorialized.”
“If you put it on the battlefield or in a museum in its context, then we can explain what’s going on,” Burton said. “But in front of the courthouse, it’s memorializing a confederate general who was fighting to protect slavery. This is offensive. So, we’ve got to change that narrative.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 21, the commission officially voted against the petition with a partisan vote of 6-3. Some members of the commission ultimately pushed back against the petition, arguing that statues like A.P. Stewart’s represent America’s ability to forgive and remain united.
Burton, however, does not see this result as a decisive defeat.
“I think that ultimately, the statues are going to come down,” Burton said. “It’s only a matter of time. And so, one thing I am satisfied about is that we spoke out, we used our voice. And the people who didn’t want it to be taken down, they were forced to make a public decision on it. So, we know the names of the people who voted for it to stay, and the names of the people who voted for it to come down…it’s documented now.”
Numerous professors and faculty members at SAU have joined Burton’s efforts by calling the Hamilton County Commission and demanding change. According to Burton, the decision of whether or not to remove the bust of A.P. Stewart “reveals something about politics at a much larger scale.”
“This democracy is rule of the majority,” Burton said. “But that means if you want something to change, and if there is a minority group that’s being oppressed, you have to convince the majority that they have to change something.”
This has also presented unique opportunities for students to foster positive conservation. Richard Thomas, senior social work major, is one of many Southern students to understand the importance of these discussions.
“I think it’s important for us to be aware of this debate and understand that not everyone who is fighting for the statues to remain is racist,” Thomas said. “But, the realities of slavery and racism have been repressed and withheld through generations.”