Discussion continues over whether to remove Emma Sansom monument from downtown Gadsden

Emma Sansom monument debate

GADSDEN, Ala. (WBRC) - The discussions continue in Gadsden over whether to move a Confederate monument to another part of town.

The Emma Sansom statue is on the west bank of the Coosa River, just where the west side of World War Memorial Bridge heads into downtown Gadsden.

The 15-year-old farm girl is known for helping Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest find a shallow crossing on Black Creek for his men to catch up with Union General Abel Streight and prevent the burning of Rome, Georgia. Forrest did that in Cedar Bluff, capturing Streight in the process.

Forrest’s legacy has been troublesome for many, not only because of his role in the Confederate army, but also because of his early involvement in the Ku Klux Klan and his role in the Fort Pillow massacre, among other things.

A petition on change.org, organized by retired Emma Sansom High School teacher Kelly Gross, has more than 800 names as of Tuesday afternoon.

It calls for the statue to be removed, or placed in a new location.

"We understand she played a role in the history of our city and represents a memory to those that went to or graduated from Emma Sansom High School," the petition reads. "But, the historical event she signifies is no longer a representation of where our town, and our state, should be evolving toward - one of inclusivity of all local citizens regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation."

One man urged the Gadsden city council to leave it where it is, as a tribute to a farm girl who risked her life.

"Emma Sansom didn't choose this moment in history, the moment chose her," he said.

James Anderson says his only complaint about the statue is that it doesn't tell enough about Emma Sansom's story.

“If we’re going after ghosts, we’re cowards,” Anderson told the Gadsden city council. “Focus on what’s important now, and not worrying about what a 15-year-old did to survive at the time.”

However, council member Thomas Worthy - speaking for the first time on the subject - compared Confederate monuments to putting up statues to Osama bin Laden across the United States. He asks if anyone knows what it was like for a Black Emma Sansom High School student to hear people yell “Go Rebels!” at football games, knowing the role the Black community played in that part of American history.

"They were traitors. They fought against other Americans and killed other Americans. And then we have names left of them," Worthy said at the council meeting.

Worthy said he hadn't spoken before because he was waiting until it came up in a public safety committee meeting.

He missed last week's meeting because he had taken a COVID-19 test and was quarantining.

Another council member who wants to move the statue to Forrest Cemetery, Jason Wilson says by not taking any action, the city council may seal the statue’s fate by leaving it up to other, younger people in the future.

He says many who want to keep the statue simply have nostalgia for the old Emma Sansom High School, which closed in 2006 due to the consolidation of three Gadsden high schools, which also included Gadsden High and Litchfield, into Gadsden City High School.

He says the youngest class not to attend Emma Sansom High would now be 32 years old. He says his plan would save the statue, which was put up in 1906, but a future generation may simply demolish it.

The proposal by Wilson and council member Deverick Williams would also rename Forrest Cemetery which is named for General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Wilson has also suggested renaming Forrest Avenue in Gadsden for the same reason.

The council has not yet indicated if or when they would vote to move the statue.

Copyright 2020 WBRC. All rights reserved.