Jonesborough to allow Confederates to be honored at veterans park

Published June 9th, 2009

The Confederates may not have won the Civil War but they certainly won the battle in Jonesborough.

The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously decided to allow bricks honoring Confederate soldiers to be placed in the newly renovated Veterans Park.

The town had made the decision 10 years ago when the memorial park was originally built to honor those who fought for the Unites States military. The town did not consider soldiers who fought for the Confederacy to be a part of the United States military. Only soldiers from the Revolutionary War until the present could be included in the memorial.

Following frustrations and accusations of discrimination from several organizations and citizens within and without the town of Jonesborough, the board asked Town Attorney Jim Wheeler to research the issue and provide a recommendation to the board at the June meeting.

In addressing the board Wheeler stated he found nothing that stated the town was violating any law by not allowing Confederate soldiers to be included in the Veterans Park memorial.

“The conclusion that I have reached is that nothing directs states or local governments on this subject,” Wheeler said. “All authority shown to me or found by me is persuasive rather than controlling on this issue. In other words, this is a decision for the town of Jonesborough as an owner of the park to make.”

Wheeler recommended the board refer the matter to the Veterans Affairs Committee and have it come back to the board next month with its recommendation.

Mayor Kelly Wolfe agreed the matter should be sent to the Veterans Affairs committee but not before voicing his opinion on the issue.

“There is something to be said for coming together,” Wolfe said. “There is something to be said for disagreeing and still being neighbors and friends and there is something to be said, in my opinion, for the town of Jonesborough that says we are inclusive and we don’t discriminate.”

Wolfe said he believed accusations made about the town engaging in discrimination were unfair and not true.

“If we are wrong or if we have been in error then I think we are big enough to say, ‘OK, we can see your point’ and change what we’re doing. It’s not a matter of my way or the highway with the town of Jonesborough.”

Wolfe asked the board to consider the precedent that has been set by the federal government in regard to the respect they have shown Confederate veterans.

With respect to the work that has been put into the recent renovations of the park Alderman Chuck Vest said he would rather the board go ahead and make a decision so that their dedication would not be marred by disagreements and controversy.

“I think we know what the recommendation is going to be and I would just assume expedite it somewhat,” Vest said. “We don’t need this Civil War issue to tarnish the great work of our Veterans Affairs Committee nor our town, nor distract the purpose of the park which is to honor and show respect to all of our soldiers. Our veterans park should build unity.”

The motion was made by Vest and seconded by Alderman Mary Gearhart to include Confederate soldiers in the memorial. Both Alderman Terry Countermine and Alderman Jerome Fitzgerald voted for the motion as well.

While there was no contest from the board or any of those in the audience, Jonesborough resident Fred Giggler said he believed there should be some differentiation between bricks in memory of Confederate soldiers and bricks of United States soldiers.

“Our great president Andrew Jackson and vice-president Andrew Johnson … were for the United States of America,” Giggler said. “I think if we are going to make amends for the Confederate soldiers that died we should probably indicate on their bricks CSA, indicating which side they fought for, so if people want to know if they fought for the United States of the Confederate states it might be indicated as such.”

Joe Adkins, a member of the Sons of Confederacy, thanked the board for their decision and support.

“I think it’s the right decision for our country,” Adkins said. “Its the right decision for unity and it’s the right decision for history. Little moments like this bring us together. This makes us truly a United States and that’s what we should be celebrating. This is not about hate. This is not about discrimination. It’s about history. It’s about who we are as a people. We must learn our history. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

© 2009 Kingsport Publishing Corporation

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