Roy Exum: Don’t Touch That Statue

Thursday, July 13, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Guarding the front lawn of the Hamilton County Courthouse there has stood a statue of Lt. General Alexander P. Stewart for the past 101 years. But we are told the Tennessee Chapter of the NAACP is planning a campaign to have the likeness of the Confederate officer removed in the name of equality, this in the same way other black racists have done in other Southern cities – most notably New Orleans.

I can assure you the NAACP’s efforts will be in vain. As a matter of fact, what they desire is counter to state law. Recently the NAACP “demanded” a place at the table to study Chattanooga’s new police chief – and surprise, surprise – they picked the black guy among the three finalists. What is horribly sad to me is that Assistant Chief Edwin McPherson would be a phenomenal choice but there is such mistrust of the NAACP due to its overt racism in a time of “political correctness” that the National Association of Colored People is darn near bankrupt.

In a news reports by WTVC – Channel 9 yesterday, the award-winning TV station quoted Quenston A. Coleman, who is reportedly the second Vice President of the Chattanooga Branch NAACP, as saying, the "Chattanooga branch president and executive board are in favor of removing that if at all possible. We find it offensive to be reminded constantly of the atrocities that they represent."

In the same report, the news segment included Hamilton County Commission Chairman Chester Bankston saying on Wednesday, the statue "is not coming down" because it is a piece of history.

Another Commissioner, Tim Boyd, agreed: "To try to eliminate the history that created that environment to me is just something that I can't even understand really. I'm so far removed from that argument and I just don't understand it," Boyd said, "When I see monuments to the valor that was shown in that war that's what I'm looking at."

So the easy answer to the problem, and the true reason the NAACP should abandon any rally next week, is because the “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016,” – fondly called “The Nathan Bedford Forrest Bill” -- was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam last year. It reads in black and white:

* * *


Present law provides as follows, unless a waiver is granted by the Tennessee historical commission:

(1)  No statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, or plaque which has been erected for, or named or dedicated in honor of a military conflict that is identified in a list of conflicts in which the U.S. has participated and is located on public property, may be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed; and,

(2)  No statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, plaque, historic flag display, school, street, bridge, building, park, preserve, or reserve which has been erected for, or named or dedicated in honor of, any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization, or military unit, and is located on public property, may be renamed or rededicated.

The prohibitions described in (1) and (2) do not apply to otherwise protected items, structures, or areas that are located on public property under the control of, or acquired by, the department of transportation which may interfere with the construction, maintenance, or operation of the public transportation system.

This bill instead prohibits the removal, renaming, relocation, alteration, rededication, or otherwise disturbing or alteration of any memorial regarding a "historic conflict," "historic entity," "historic event," "historic figure," or "historic organization" that is, or is located on, public property, unless the commission grants a waiver.  Under this bill:

(1)  "Historic event" means any war, battle, or military conflict in which citizens of the United States or any state or territory of the United States have participated;

(2)  "Historic entity" means any entity recognized as having state, national, military, or historical significance;

(3)  "Historic event" means any event recognized as having state, national, military, or historical significance;

(4)  "Historic figure" means any individual who has been recognized as having served in any historic conflict, historic event, historic entity, public office, or in public service; and

(5)  "Historic organization" means any entity that has as one or more of its material missions, the recognition or preservation of any historic conflict, historic entity, historic event, or historic figure.

Present law defines "public property" to mean all property owned or leased by the state of Tennessee, any county, municipality, metropolitan government, or any other entity that is created by act of the general assembly to perform any public function.  This bill instead defines "public property" as all property owned, leased, rented, managed, or maintained by or under the authority of this state, any county, municipality, metropolitan government, or any other public entity that is created by act of the general assembly to perform any public function.

This bill defines "memorial" as:

(1)  Any public real property or park, preserve, or reserve located on public property that has been named or dedicated in honor of any historic conflict, historic entity, historic event, historic figure, or historic organization; or

(2)  Any statue, monument, memorial, bust, nameplate, plaque, artwork, flag, historic display, school, street, bridge, or building that has been erected for, named, or dedicated on public property in honor of any historic conflict, historic entity, historic event, historic figure, or historic organization.


Present law prohibits any person from preventing the governmental entity having responsibility for maintaining any of the items, structures, or areas described in (1) and (2) under PROTECTED ARTICLES from taking proper and appropriate measures, and exercising proper and appropriate means, for the protection, preservation, care, repair, or restoration of such items, structures, or areas.

This bill replaces the present law prohibition with authorization for a public entity having responsibility for maintaining a memorial, or a nonprofit entity acting with permission of the public entity, to take proper and appropriate measures, and exercise proper and appropriate means, for the care, preservation, protection, repair, and restoration of the memorial.


Present law authorizes any entity exercising control of public property on which an item, structure, or area described above is located to petition the Tennessee historical commission for a waiver of the prohibitions.  A petition for waiver must be in writing and state the reasons upon which the waiver is sought.  At any regularly scheduled meeting of the commission, the commission may grant a petition for waiver by a majority vote of those present and voting.  The commission may include reasonable conditions and instructions to ensure that any items, structures, or areas are preserved to the greatest extent possible.

This bill replaces the present law waiver petition process with a formal process that includes public notice and an open hearing before the commission where interested parties may offer public comment.  The commission's final hearing of a petition will occur no sooner than 180 days after the filing date of the petition.  This bill changes the commission vote that is required to grant a waiver petition from a majority vote of those present and voting to a 2/3 vote of the entire membership of the commission by roll call vote.  This bill authorizes a party who filed a petition or who testified or submitted evidence at the final hearing to appeal the commission's decision in chancery court.


This bill authorizes any person who can demonstrate a real interest in a memorial through aesthetic, architectural, cultural, economic, environmental, or historic injury, or through administrative involvement in the waiver process, to seek injunctive relief in chancery court of Davidson County to enforce this bill.  To the extent necessary to preserve the status of any memorial prior to a final determination by the commission or the chancery court, the court may issue an injunction to preserve the memorial and any related public property pending a final ruling on any request for injunctive relief.  No bond shall be required for any injunction issued.

This bill specifies that it is remedial in nature and is to be liberally construed in favor of historical preservation.

This bill will take effect on March 14, 2016.

* * *

Or – in short – the NAACP best leave that statue alone. It stands less than two blocks from the Hamilton County jail.











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