Group asks Jonesborough to reconsider Confederate veterans’ status

By NET News Service

Published June 5th, 2009

Frustration and disappointment that have arisen out of the town of Jonesborough’s decision to not allow bricks honoring Confederate soldiers to be placed in the Veterans Memorial Park have spread beyond the town limits.

The Southern Legal Resource Center, a nonprofit organization based in Black Mountain, N.C., that advocates in matters involving Southern history, heritage and culture, has contacted Jonesborough officials cautioning them about excluding the Confederate soldiers and urging them to reconsider the town’s current policy.

The town decided nearly a decade ago, when the park was originally built, that the park would honor soldiers who served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War to present.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in East Tennessee contacted the SLRC with their concerns Washington County’s Confederate soldiers would not be memorialized in Jonesborough.

In a letter to Mayor Kelly Wolfe, SLRC Executive Director Roger McCredie said that “considering that bricks honoring several Union soldiers are present in the memorial area, the town of Jonesborough’s exclusion of bricks honoring Confederate veterans from that area is blatantly discrimination and abridges the civil rights of their descendants.”

He goes on to urge the town to revise its position in the matter and to do the “legally and morally correct thing by admitting memorials to the Confederate dead to their rightful place in a municipal area set aside for honoring all of Jonesborough’s veterans.”

The letter references an excerpt from the Web site of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showing that in 1906 the U.S. government began making headstones available for the graves of Confederate soldiers who died in Union captivity and also that in 1929 such headstones were furnished to Confederates who were buried in private cemeteries as well.

Attached to the letter was a copy of Public Law 85-425 as adopted in 1958, which defined the status of Confederate veterans and established for them federal pension rates exactly the same as those afforded to Union veterans.

Wolfe said town staff are working to ensure no laws are being violated.

“I’ve asked our town attorney, Mr. Jim Wheeler, for an opinion … on our legal status with this issue,” Wolfe said. “The town of Jonesborough has no desire to unfairly discriminate against anyone, veteran or otherwise.”

Wheeler is looking into the situation and researching laws pertaining to the status of Confederate soldiers. Wolfe said he will present his opinion to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at Monday evening’s meeting at Town Hall.

Because the memorial park is a town facility, the board could choose to revise the policy to allow Confederate soldiers to be included among those honored there.

“I’m sure the board will take steps if necessary to rectify this situation,” Wolfe said.

The Veterans Memorial Park has been in place outside the Visitors Center for about a decade. The park was rededicated at this year’s Memorial Day ceremony following nearly a year of renovation. Wolfe said the timing of the controversy surrounding the memorial is unfortunate as it follows the culmination of a great deal of hard work, time and dedication of those who contributed to the park’s renovations.

“I hope this whole debate doesn’t cause us to lose sight of just how wonderful the improvements to our recently completed veterans park are and how grateful we are to our Veterans Committee and especially to Mr. Marion Light for all their hard work.”

© 2009 Kingsport Publishing Corporation

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