Confederate exclusion brings controversy for Jonesborough park

By Heather Richardson
Press Staff Writer
hrichardson@johnsoncitypress.com

Jonesborough’s Veterans Park was built nearly a decade ago but its recent dedication has sparked some controversy.

More than 1,000 bricks await permanent placement at the newly renovated Veterans Memorial Park outside the visitor’s center. None of those bricks will carry the names of soldiers who fought solely for the Confederacy.

The policy to not include Confederate soldiers has been in place since the memorial was built. However, Jonesborough resident Joe Adkins said he was only recently made aware of it.

“I spoke with a friend who had inquired about purchasing a brick for a confederate veteran from here in Washington County,” Adkins said. “He was declined, stating that this memorial was going to be for United States veterans only. Being something of an amateur historian I was aware of the law that the 85th Congress passed back in 1958 Eisenhower signed it into law. This law conferred on the Confederates official and legal status as United States military veterans.”

Town Administrator Bob Browning said the veterans affairs committee, in planning for the park, initiated the criteria for the bricks that would be placed in the park – how they would be paid for, where they would be placed and who they would honor.

“They established criteria that it had to be somebody who lived in Washington County in some point in their life and that it could be that they served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War time to present.”

Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman Marion Light said those criteria were adopted as policy by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen in 1999 when the memorial was being erected.

Since then Light said he has only heard from a couple people concerned about Confederate soldiers not being included.

“It kind of perplexes me that after 10 years it is an issue,” Light said.

Adkins said regardless of when the policy was made he is “mystified and disappointed” with the town’s decision. The memorial, he said, should be a source of unity, not division.

“I’m a firm believer that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I certainly don’t believe that we are going to go back to slavery but there were a lot of mistakes that were made on both sides that led to that war and I think that the Confederates need to be here on this memorial as a reminder to us of what can happen when we don’t manage our affairs as a nation well.”

Browning said the decision to include soldiers beginning with Revolutionary War soldiers was not made with the intention to dishonor any of the Confederate soldiers.

“I think that what (the committee) did was look at what their goal was to honor veterans who had served in the U.S. military and that was what they wanted to do,” Browning said. “The Civil War part of it is just a complicated part of that. I think what they wanted to do is to honor the veterans… and I’m assuming, without having participated in it … that they wanted to avoid some of the controversy that occurs and that is occurring now. So they created some guidelines and those guidelines have been implemented that way for the last 10 years. It has nothing to do with dishonoring anybody.”

Light agrees that the committee’s goal was to honor those who fought for the United States.

“We set out to honor the United States military,” Light said. “Most people don’t go back past World War I. Because of Jonesborough’s historical significance we decided to go back to the Revolutionary War.”

Though the current policy prevents Confederate soldiers from being memorialized in the park, Light said the Board of Mayor and Aldermen will have the authority to amend that.

“At some point it’s going to be turned back over to the board and they will have to decide which direction to go.”

According to Light, it has been suggested that since this memorial park currently does not include Confederate soldiers that a separate memorial be erected.

“It’s a possibility if someone wants to do that and I certainly wouldn’t be against it,” Light said. “But as far as this park, this park would be for United States veterans.”

Browning said he didn’t foresee the town initiating such a memorial without someone in the community taking on the leadership role to make it happen.

“It’s like with a lot of things we do,” Browning said. “It has to be some people with passion who come to the town and partner with us.”

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