GADSDEN, Ala. (WBRC) - A new committee in Gadsden will look into social issues dealing with diversity and other matters in the wake of America’s social reckoning following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The committee was formed in the wake of efforts to move the 1905 Civil War monument of Gadsden area farmgirl Emma Sansom, who played a role in helping Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest capture Union General Abel Streight.
The monument is located at First and Broad Streets, on the west bank of the Broad Street Bridge. It depicts Sansom pointing her finger, as if she's showing General Forrest the way forward, and one part of the base depicts her riding horseback with Forrest.
There was also talk of renaming Forrest Cemetery, which is believed to be named in honor of General Forrest, widely credited with being one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan.
The council narrowly voted against both ideas.
Council members Jason Wilson and Deverick Williams were the first two members of the new committee and met for the first time Tuesday to discuss the way forward. Wilson is the chair of the committee, while Williams - who first suggested removing the statue from downtown Gadsden and renaming the cemetery - is co-chair. Wilson had suggested moving it to Forrest Cemetery and also renaming Forrest Avenue.
“Our commitment is to bring together a committee that will include some members of the youth leadership groups in this community, and some subject matter experts and educators, some historians, legal experts, just to get together and talk about some of the major issues that create division in our community,” Wilson said. “Be it from actual or perceived biases in the community, you know, just giving those individuals an opportunity to come in and state their concerns and hopefully try to come up with some long term plans to address those concerns.”
Wilson says they hope to hear, for instance, how the Alabama Monuments Preservation Act applies to Gadsden.
"One simple question is, how many monuments do we actually have in the city of Gadsden? If it's every street that's been named for 40 years, so, you know, we're trying to learn more about what exactly is protected in this community, and what we need to do to adhere to those legal guidelines," Wilson said.
Monuments won't be the only things considered by the new committee.
Wilson expects to discuss police reforms and issues about whether the city’s leadership reflects a city with a growing Black citizenship.
A local Black Lives Matter chapter recently presented a list of “Calls to Action” to the city council’s public safety committee, which determined the police department already exercised many of the items on the list, including a ban on chokeholds.
Several weeks of recent protests have led several in Gadsden's city government to find ways to attract more young people to the workings of city government, and to find ways for their voices to be heard.
Wilson says they’re still working out what issues they’ll tackle, how often they’ll meet, and even what the new committee will be called.