John Shearer: Random Thoughts About Stewart Statue, School Buildings, U.S. Grant, Temperance and Welker

Monday, October 26, 2020 - by John Shearer

While stopping and examining the half statue of former Confederate Gen. and early Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Commissioner A.P. Stewart on the south lawn of the County Courthouse Saturday, I realized it looks different from various angles.


The same can be said for people’s perspectives of the statue’s place in the Chattanooga of 2020.

To many, Gen. Stewart was a man of many admirable traits. who was simply a part of Chattanooga’s historical connection to the Civil War, and that his memory should not be lessened by moving his sculpture under pressure from some people.


To a few others, the fact he had served the Confederacy and that slavery was one of the beliefs it upheld as a whole is a reason to have the statue moved somewhere else – perhaps to the local national park land, the nearby Confederate cemetery off Third Street or a museum. Many of these also wish others had also been involved in a lengthier examination of its location.


The County Commission on Wednesday voted 6-3 to keep the piece of historical art at its central location, and four out of five readers of said in a recent poll that it should stay there. So, it is apparent from the vote where the majority of those in Hamilton County stand.


As a result, the only perspective or angle remaining to see is that of 20 or 50 years from now, and whether the decision is still viewed favorably by the majority of the citizens, and to learn whether a push to move it took place again.


* * * * *


While the vast majority of Hamilton County residents – even those who want the statue moved -- seem to think that good art, such as that done on the Stewart statue by sculptor of yesteryear Belle Kinney, and history, warts and all -- should not be erased, historic buildings are different.


Many might say Chattanooga and the county have done a poor job protecting historic buildings, particularly school structures. Just this week, I realized the old former East Brainerd Elementary off busy East Brainerd Road was being torn down. I had actually passed it several times in the last couple of years or so and knew the empty structure was likely to be torn down. I kept meaning to stop and get some pictures of it but never did.


The old Highland Park Elementary School building of yesteryear has also been razed this year.


Of course, the destruction of old buildings usually has economic factors at work more than political or philosophical ones.


* * * * *


Speaking of art and architecture, as the debate over the A.P. Stewart statue continued, talk surfaced by a small handful of people regarding putting up statues to other people as well – or at least to a Union official -- to show the various other people important in Chattanooga.


Since Chattanooga is big on sculptures and sculpture parks, maybe that could one day become a reality with the help of Public Art Chattanooga. It would be interesting to think about others who could be included and could also pass a thorough vetting.


Although I am generally more interested in other aspects of Chattanooga’s history than the minute detail of the Civil War battles, other than maybe the then-famous or future famous people who fought here, Union Gen. U.S. Grant was certainly a hero of the local battles.


However, he has two strikes against him regarding his chances of being honored -- he had inherited a slave before the Civil War, and he was a “Yankee,” even though Chattanooga has had several Northerners move here and become well-received citizens. 


Gen. Grant was also reported to have had problems with alcohol at various times in his life, and historical records say he was given cocaine in his waning years to numb his pain before all the harmful and addictive effects of the drug were well known.


And speaking of alcohol, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have one belief they share in common – both are teetotalers.


* * * * *


Concerning the presidential race, the real star of Thursday night’s presidential debate might have been NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker. Along with the silenced microphones policy, she helped keep the debate civil and moving along and let viewers hear more about each candidate’s views.


As a regular watcher of the NBC “Today” show and NBC Nightly News, I felt proud for her and the job she did as debate moderator, an effort that was praised by both Democrats and Republicans.


I could also identify with Fox News’ Chris Wallace a few weeks back in his difficulty at controlling the various interruptions during the first debate, when viewers could hardly hear what each candidate was saying. As a former public school teacher for three years, and in my student teaching before that, I seemed to always end up with a few rowdy students, and the first debate very much reminded me of those days.


Ms. Welker has a unique history. Born in 1976 to a white father and a black mother at a time when racially mixed marriages were much less common than today, Ms. Welker – who is not registered with any political party -- grew up in Philadelphia.


She went on to attend a pretty good college – Harvard. And to my delight, she majored in history.


Last week, some might say she made history as well.

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