Tenn. Statue Honoring U.S. Black Troops Debuts Near Confederate Monument: 'It Means Courage'

The monument pays tribute to the approximately 186,000 Black people who joined the Union Army during the Civil War

statue honoring black troops
The new statue honoring Black U.S. Troops during the Civil War. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock

A statue honoring the contributions of Black soldiers in the Civil War has been unveiled in Tennessee.

The city of Franklin debuted the "March to Freedom" statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier during a ceremony on Saturday in the downtown square near a courthouse, CNN reported.

It was strategically set up in the same place where Black people enlisted in the Union Army centuries ago, and across the street from a Confederate monument that was installed in 1899, according to the outlet.

Standing tall in front of the courthouse, the bronze monument was designed by Tennessee-based sculptor Joe F. Howard and shows a Black soldier holding a rifle across his knee as he leans on a tree stump with his foot.

It aims to honor the approximately 186,000 Black people who joined the Union Army, according to a press release from the city.

"This statue means hope, it means courage, it means possibility, it means dignity, it means valor," Rev. Chris Williamson said in front of a crowd of hundreds on Saturday, per CNN.

statue honoring black troops
The "March to Freedom" statue. Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock

Williamson was among the group of local pastors who spearheaded efforts to get the statue built.

Their plans were first launched four years ago in the wake of the "Unite the Right" white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, according to a press release from the city.

At the time, escalating tensions over the city's proposed removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee ended with a deadly confrontation where a car intentionally plowed through a crowd of peaceful counter-demonstrators. One person, identified as 32-year-old Heather Heyer, died in the incident, while dozens were injured.

Williamson, Rev. Hewitt Sawyers, Rev. Kevin Riggs and historian Eric Jacobson worked together to "provide proactive solutions surrounding the controversy of confederate monuments," which would focus on education and representation, according to the release.

In 2019, they had five historic markers installed around the city square, which shared stories from enslaved people and African Americans' perspectives before, during and after the Civil War, the release stated.

The final aspect of the plan was completed on Saturday with the installation of the statue "in a place of prominence and equal nobility on the city's square," per the release.

"This glorious statue will stand in front of the Historic Courthouse in Franklin where hundreds of escaped slaves in Williamson County and surrounding areas fled to in order to enlist in the Union Army," Williamson said in a statement. "This statue represents the 186,000 United States Colored Troops soldiers who courageously fought for this country's freedom and their own freedom. These black men are worthy to be honored and celebrated."

News of the new statue comes as states begin to slowly remove statues that glorify the Confederacy. The removals were particularly sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and countless Black Lives Matter protests across the nation.

Though there were only 11 states in the Confederacy, 31 of the 50 states contain monuments dedicated to it. The Equal Justice Initiative has documented over 1,800 monuments, most of which were erected decades after the Confederacy lost the Civil War and slavery was abolished.

Meanwhile, there has been very little praise for Black soldiers who served in the Civil War, Damon Radcliffe, a law enforcement officer in Virginia, told CNN.

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Radcliffe said it took him decades to learn that his great-great-grandfather fought in the 1864 Battle of New Market Heights in Virginia. One of only 14 Black soldiers in the battle, he received a Medal of Honor, according to the outlet.

Radcliffe's knowledge of his ancestors remained very limited until 2006, when a reenactment group contacted his family and he began to learn more about their history, per CNN.

"They were people they, they had feelings, they had ambitions," Radcliffe told the outlet. "For some of them, joining the Army gave them an opportunity to help build this country, help support their families later on in life."

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