I want to say I am shocked by Boyd Veal, running to News Channel 12, acting as the town’s resident civil rights hero. However, after living here 11 years, I would be lying. This is not a genuine act of having an appropriate discussion on this hot button topic in 2020. It was a knee-jerk reaction. 2020 has blessed us all with worry and anxiety. Veal and the town council’s remedy is self-righteous vanity.
Digging up racism from 1919 took quite a bit of taxpayer paid hours. Not to mention this information was known to Veal during the town’s 100-year anniversary celebration which heaped praise upon C.E. James, the man he suddenly decries today. The average citizen of Signal Mountain was unaware of property deeds possessing jargon about setting land apart for “the white race,” as local news reported from Veal. Yet, he fails (as this town’s officials normally do) to tell the full story of our town’s racist history by trying to pin it on one individual.
The trolley tracks in Old Town, which cost an extravagant amount to repair at the taxpayers’ expense, share a chapter in the town’s racist history. People of color that worked in Old Town were strongly encouraged to get on the last trolley of the day and remove their likeness from Signal Mountain before dusk. That is, unless they wanted unnecessary situations brought against them, according to elders that still live in the area. But Veal and the council fought for those tracks. That part of our racist history is happily accepted and overlooked because we have fresh, new tracks for a non-existent trolley. That is government at work, folks.
They pretend to be grounded in diversity and inclusivity: an all-White group of town leaders. And they do what many in their positions do today: pick and choose which racist history to accept, celebrate and which parts to whitewash away – pun intended. You cannot celebrate C.E. James at the centennial celebration from one side of your mouths, then attack him months later, pretending to have learned something. Be honest about this town’s history. Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. was a very proud member of Signal Mountain on Albion Street from 1982-1990. If you are unaware, Beck with murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
Of course, this town worked hard to disown him, eight years after he arrived. The New York Times wrote about this on Dec. 21, 1990. This town was fine with Beckwith walking its streets and accepting his money. Beckwith was arrested December 1990 because Signal Mountain residents did their duty and reported him. I’m joking, of course. It was the hard work of a Mississippi reporter from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that brought him to justice.
Let’s be honest: Signal Mountain’s reputation is not the greatest. When I moved here in 2009 I was told by a resident, “Signal Mountain is a poor man’s Lookout Mountain. They try hard to keep up with the Joneses.” That comment reflects the few that tarnish the reputation of many. Parents avoid our high school, enrolling their kids in every private institution Hamilton County offers. From teachers drinking with students to one student impersonating a Channel 3 journalist promoting drug use on social media, SMMHS has been a beacon to Hamilton County reflecting the stupidity of the few upon the entire community.
Boyd Veal felt it best to run to the news before discussing the matter-at-hand with the community. Reading a self-penned letter on a Zoom conference and being applauded by the city council for vanity’s sake did not give the community a voice. Yes, the wording on the deeds in existence are racist and clearly outdated. I am from McMinn County and that county’s records state they are still at war with Spain. Address the deeds with current owners and have the language legally changed. Was that considered? No, because that is easy and cost-effective. It deprives Boyd Veal an opportunity for press time to look like a civil rights hero to… who? Himself? Maybe he needed to feel like he’s done something during his time as a town official.
Boyd recommends renaming James Park and removing the statue of C.E. James. The average citizen has no clue who this man is, was about, and to be honest, could care less. I had to ask around and find the “statue” because I had no idea where it was. Eleven years and I never knew the hunk of metal at the site where the Christmas Train goes was supposed to be a statue. But I cannot stress this enough: “admitting” Signal Mountain has a racist history is akin to telling people the Pope is Catholic. No one learned anything new.
What’s next: renaming streets? Mississippi has a racist history so I guess that street name has to go. Texas and Mexico have a long, sordid history so that street must be renamed. Golf was considered a racist, elitist sport for years. Do we repurpose the course and country club? Veal and the council’s egregious ineptitude is a potential precursor to a rabbit hole no one wants to go down.
Veal, nor the council, care about Signal Mountain’s racist history. The mostly unknown C.E. James is not a community matter for Boyd Veal. So what was the purpose? To change a discussion already being had in town? A discussion by citizens about reduced state funding to all municipalities? Elected officials being advised not to accept raises during the COVID-19 pandemic? Mr. Veal is very happy with his raise and so is the town council. Will they use their raises to fund social justice on Signal Mountain? No. If they continue with their horse and pony show they will increase taxes again – the only thing this town’s leaders know how to vote yes on.
So, Mr. Veal: will you use your uncontested raise and put said money toward the cause you feel so strongly about? Since you are about to retire I am sure the answer is no and that you care less. And the city council are unanimous in this, I am sure.
The city council, pretending to be enlightened, will refuse to stop their raises and put that money aside to handle real town issues in this pandemic, such as the paving budget they took one quote for. A homeowner with common sense gets at least three quotes.
Parading as heroes for social justice is the only theatrical release this town will get in 2020 with the Playhouse shut down due to COVID-19. This false enlightenment is becoming too common today. White people apologizing to White people about White people in the whitest town in the nation: the Town of Signal Mountain. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Wake up to that reality.