HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) - A battle of Civil War memories is underway at the Hamilton County Courthouse. The Chattanooga chapter of the NAACP wants a Confederate statue removed from the front of the courthouse. However, county commissioners tell Channel 3, that will not happen.
A spokesperson for the local NAACP said they don't want to see the statue destroyed, but they said some people feel intimidated walking into the courthouse, so a new location may be the answer.
“When you're in a public place like this, in my view, and the NAACP view, it is the wrong perspective of what this community, what this building is about,” said former city council member and current local NAACP board member Yusuf Hakeem. He believes the Civil War is a time best left in the history books. “We don't want this to be an antagonistic type of situation, but one where we look at the community as a whole. What is best for the community as a whole? If we sit down and discuss this we can come up with a solution.”
The statue is of Confederate General Alexander P. Stewart. It was erected in 1918, just 53 years after the end of the Civil War. A time when the Confederacy was still in the memories of survivors and their families. “There is a perception that this puts one community over another community. One person's belief over another.”
The man depicted in the statue is largely unknown today. Prior to the Civil War, Stewart was an officer in the United States Army, and a college professor. In 1865 he took command of the Army of Tennessee. “It stays. It is part of history, I believe in history, I would never agree to remove it,” said Chester Bankston.
County Commissioner Chester Bankston said the county hasn't received requests about removing the statue. And even if they did, he said the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, signed in 2016 by Governor Haslam, protects the statue. “Historical courthouse. All of the grounds are historical, that is why this law was put into place. To leave it alone.”
But Hakeem said before any action is taken, those on both sides of the issue need to understand each others' concerns. “People need to see it through my eyes. I need to see their perspective through my eyes. As a result of that, I think we can come to a meaningful resolution.”
Stewart isn't the only Confederate statue in Hamilton County. Channel 3 asked if the NAACP will try to get others removed, Hakeem said attempting to remove the Stewart statue will be their starting point.