Cleveland City Councilman Bill Estes believes he has a workable plan on how to approach the "divisiveness" caused within the community by the 110-year-old Confederate monument that has stood in the gateway to downtown since the Jim Crow era.
The longtime councilman will present his ideas at the next gathering of the Cleveland City Council on July 13. Estes represents the city's Second District, where the statue stands.
Located at the intersection of Ocoee, Broad and Eighth streets, the embattled monument has been the scene of nightly protests since a petition was posted online earlier this month advocating for its removal to an alternate location where it can be viewed with an educational and historical perspective. The petition was followed by several others opposed to its removal. Collectively, thousands of signatures have been collected — both for and against the monument's relocation.
In an Op-ed piece published in today's edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner on the Opinion page (Page 4), Estes said city residents can work together to solve the conflicts involving the monument.
With the hope of getting the conversation started toward a resolution, the councilman has explained in detail a four-step process that he believes could satisfy both sides of the debate, one whose protests at the statue's base have remained peaceful though dotted with heated verbal exchanges between participants.
In his perspective, Estes stressed that it is common for people to disagree on significant issues, and that neither should be demonized by the other because of their beliefs.
"... Good people disagree on important issues, therefore moving forward frequently requires measures of compromise," the councilman, who is a veteran educator, stressed. "What does take courage is to listen to others, see an issue from another perspective and work to solve a problem together."
Along with his long years of service on the council, Estes is the dean of the Helen DeVos College of Education at Lee University.
In his recommendations, Estes suggests relocating the Grand Army of the Republic memorial — which is a tribute to the Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War — from Fort Hill Cemetery to the north side of the Confederate statue at the Ocoee, Broad and Eighth street junction.
In addition, he proposes the memorial be refurbished to its original design when it was constructed in 1914. The federal monument is located at the entrance of the historic Fort Hill resting place.
The federal monument was constructed by members of the Oviatt Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, as described in the late Dr. William R. Snell’s “Cleveland, The Beautiful: A History of Cleveland, Tennessee, 1842-1931.”
Estes also proposes a plaque be placed between the two memorials directing readers to the Cleveland Bradley Public Library's History Branch and Archives "across the street for context.”
Finally, Estes will ask the Cleveland Bradley County Library to add a permanent exhibit in the branch focusing on the history of the community “as it pertains to these memorials.”
“Rarely in our modern American culture do we see compromise or moderation modeled for us,” Estes writes. “It is easy to insist on the moral purity of our own position, assert our individual rights and demonize our opponents.”
Estes pointed out the "statue is not the problem, but a symbol for deep and complex problems facing our nation and Cleveland."
“This statue does not exist in a vacuum, but has become part of a bigger narrative with many facets and complexities that few have the historical knowledge, time and wisdom to properly understand, myself included,” he writes.
The petition has sparked vigorous, even bitter debate among those who support, as well as those who oppose, the statue's relocation.
The statue, which stands atop a granite column, was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Chapter 900 in 1910, and was dedicated in 1911. That same year, city aldermen conveyed the plot of land where the monument stands to the UDOC.
In Sunday's edition of the Banner, the UDOC organization published a response to the protests stating that it "appreciates the feelings of citizens across the country currently being expressed concerning Confederate memorial statues and monuments that were erected by our members in decades past."
The UDOC statement originated from a position it took two years ago during a similar debate centering around Confederate symbols such as the Confederate Battle Flag and statues. Although the statement was published by the Cleveland newspaper as submitted, it did not clarify the group's position on the future of the Cleveland monument.
"We are grieved that certain hate groups have taken the Confederate flag and other symbols as their own," the UDOC statement from 2018 cited. "We are the descendants of Confederate soldiers, sailors and patriots. Our members are the ones who have spent  years honoring their memory by various activities in the fields of education, history and charity, promoting patriotism and good citizenship. Our members are the ones who, like our statues, have stayed quietly in the background, never engaging in public controversy."
A day later — on Monday — the local affiliate of United Daughters of the Confederacy released another statement, this one much more targeted toward the Cleveland statue. In this stance, UDOC refused to support the relocation of the Confederate monument. A detailed story detailing the UDOC position can be found in today's edition of the Banner, beginning on Page 1.
Although the city of Cleveland has not released an official statement regarding the monument, Mayor Kevin Brooks last week released the minutes from a 1914 city aldermen meeting showing the municipality had conveyed ownership of the monument to the UDOC.
A news story relaying Brooks' information was also published in Sunday's edition of the Cleveland newspaper, as was an interview with Tee Davis, a representative of the Black Lives Matter movement in Bradley County. Black Lives Matter members and supporters — who have been joined in the nightly protests by members of the Bradley County Chapter of the NAACP and other community and church leaders — is the organization leading the campaign to relocate the statue to a more historic location such as Fort Hill Cemetery.
Black Lives Matters members have stressed they are not calling for the statue to be torn down or damaged, but to be moved to a site where it can lend deeper context as to its meaning and community message.