Two council members want Emma Sansom statue moved away from downtown Gadsden

Updated: Jun. 9, 2020 at 5:18 PM CDT
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GADSDEN, Ala. (WBRC) - Two Gadsden city council members have come out in favor of moving the Emma Sansom statue away from downtown.

Gadsden Councilor Deverick Williams says he would like to see it removed from its current location at First and Broad Streets, on the west bank of the Broad Street Bridge.

The statue was built in 1905 and placed in its current location in the 1920s.

It honors a civilian teenager who helped Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest win a Civil War battle.

Sansom, 15 at the time, offered to show Forrest a shallow crossing at Black Creek so he could stop Union General Abel Streight and his men from advancing on Rome, Georgia. Forrest later stopped the advance and captured Streight near Cedar Bluff.

Williams says he and many other people see Confederate statues the way Jewish people see swastikas. He says the Civil War was fought for free labor through slavery, with many of the Confederate soldiers giving their lives despite being too poor themselves to own slaves.

“The statues that we have to look at, drive by, hold our nose and bear, are statues that are erected in remembrance of the poorest and weakest moment in this great nation’s history,” Williams said during the council remarks portion of Tuesday’s council meeting.

"And so, this is a great opportunity for the city, to step up and at the very least, have a dialogue about what to do with those symbols that none of us had anything to do with," he added.

Councilor Johnny Cannon opposes the idea, however, saying he doesn't understand what Emma Sansom has to do with the death of George Floyd. Many protests over Floyd's death under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin have often taken place near Confederate monuments, one as recently as Monday in Jacksonville. A large Black Lives Matter protest in Gadsden Sunday centered around the monument and even brought out a handful of people who came to "protect" it from being brought down by protesters.

"I just can't understand it, not only this statue, but all the ones around, in Birmingham and Hoover. I don't understand why the people want to destroy all of this stuff. It's history," Cannon said.

Monuments have been removed in recent weeks in Birmingham and Mobile, despite a law that allows it only if it's approved by a state commission.

Williams says he’d also like to see Forrest Cemetery renamed because it’s named after General Forrest, who he says had ties to the Ku Klux Klan. (Williams says Forrest co-founded the Klan, but historians debate this.)

Councilor Jason Wilson says he agrees with Williams, and suggested moving the Emma Sansom statue to Forrest Cemetery, and even renaming Forrest Avenue, also apparently named for General Forrest. Wilson suggested naming it after a prominent African-American, specifically suggesting La Gray, a longtime child advocate and probation officer who died in October 2018 and whose death brought an outpouring of grief on social media.

Wilson pointed out the statue was built some 50 years after the end of the Civil War. Supporters of Civil War statues say removing them would rewrite history, but critics say the statues themselves were an attempt to rewrite history and were intended as racist messages for black people during the Jim Crow era.

Williams requested Council President Cynthia Toles call a meeting of the council’s public safety committee to begin discussing the removal of the statue. There’s no word on when or if that will happen.

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