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Commentary: Amid fuss, goal of Fuller Story Initiative remains unmoved

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Chris Williamson

Chris Williamson is the senior pastor of Strong Tower Bible Church, a multiracial fellowship that began 25 years ago in Franklin, and is one of the architects of the Fuller Story Initiative.

As an African American man and resident of Williamson County for over 25 years, I believe the visible image of the Confederate battle flag on the Williamson County seal needs to be removed and replaced.

Our county can and should do better. After 52 years, it’s time for a change. Therefore, I support this effort and I stand with Dustin Koctar as he spearheads this charge. His plan is good, attainable and inclusive. 

As one of the leaders in the Fuller Story Initiative, which began in 2017, we were successful in seeing racial healing and cultural awareness take place in our city after the horrific displays of racial terror in Charlottesville, Virginia. In an initial response of anger, Kevin Riggs, Hewitt Sawyers and I wanted to see the Confederate monument in our city come down. We felt that it was a lightning rod of controversy and that its presence, since 1899, had always signaled a one-sided, romanticized view of the Civil War.

It wasn’t until we talked with historian Eric Jacobson that we began to discover another way. Thankfully, our budding effort began in prayer, and this allowed God to calm our hearts. 

Had the statue in the center of our city been the image of an actual blood-spilling, racial terrorist such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, there would be no need for a “fuller story.” As I told Gov. Bill Lee, who wanted to mimic what we did in Franklin with the bust in Nashville, you cannot frame redemptive history, or a fuller story, around a scoundrel such as Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The bust of Forrest that sits in the Capitol building belongs in a museum, where his atrocities can be discussed and even debated. “Chip,” on the other hand, represents the Confederate dead, all of whom were not racists and slave owners. To believe that every Confederate soldier was a racist is the same as believing every Federal soldier was an abolitionist. Neither extreme is correct. Somewhere in the balance is where we find the truth.

It’s also in the balance that we can all learn and change for the better if we’re teachable.

Recently, some have asked what my thoughts are concerning the rumblings that are beginning to manifest in our city about removing the Confederate monument. My answer to this question is the same as it was when we dedicated the five historical markers on Oct. 17, 2019, and revealed the place where the statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier will soon stand.

The objective of the Fuller Story Initiative has always been to educate people about the contributions that African Americans made in this city before, during and after the Civil War. Our goal was not to take the Confederate monument down. Our objective, which the city’s leaders unanimously voted for and approved, was to put up five historical markers and a statue of a black man. Based on Ecclesiastes 3:3, God gave us an assignment to build up and not to tear down.

The Fuller Story works for us because the Confederate statue in the center of the city does not display the Confederate flag in a prominent manner as the county seal does. The faded Confederate flag symbol is chiseled into the base of the statue, and most passers-by don’t even know that it’s there.

The flag symbol is not in color, nor is it visible from the road. And although the seal and the statue may be in the fruit family, they are apples and oranges.

I find it ironic that people, both black and white, who have been born and raised in Franklin, have hardly ever given public voice to remove the statue until now. I get it. People are being moved emotionally after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — and rightfully so.

A righteous indignation is stirring in many and that’s a good thing. Much needed change is taking place. Many white people are asking, “What can we do?” and many are putting actions to their feelings of remorse.

In fact, I’m working with a racially mixed group of people that is addressing policies and procedures within the Franklin Police Department and the school board. We are doing things that involve necessary systemic change and not mere cosmetic change. 

If we have eyes to see, we can observe that God is crushing the spirit, the systems and the symbols of white supremacy that have stood in this country for 400 years. Statues are coming down all across the nation, and the majority of them should come down because of the real racists they personify.

That being said, if a group from our city wants to go through the legal process of removing the Confederate monument, that’s its prerogative. Like the leaders of the Fuller Story, they should be prepared to spend hours, days, weeks, months and years, like we did, to get our initiative approved.

They will have to schedule meetings with various committees and individuals, like we did. They will have to spend their money on lawyers and find financial backers, like we did. They will have to go up against the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, like we did. They must prepare to get hate mail and death threats, like we did. They will have to work with the city’s leaders and not against them, like we did. They should pray, fast, preach, teach, write, lead and march, like we did. And if they are still pursuing their goal in six months, I, for one, will be surprised. 

For those of us who support the Fuller Story, our focus is much higher. Our eyes are fixed on completing our goal, and we will not be deterred.

To date, we have raised $100,000 of the $150,000 for the statue. The sculptor, who is a black man and a Tennessee native, has already begun the work. In 2021, with the help of God and the backing of the community, we will see the image of a former slave, dressed in a Federal Army uniform, standing proudly on our square and breaking the racist shackles of oppression. 

This is our goal, and we will accomplish it together.

Williamson is the senior pastor of Strong Tower Bible Church, a multiracial fellowship that began 25 years ago in Franklin, and is one of the architects of the Fuller Story Initiative.

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