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Commentary: Take a closer look at statue before passing judgment

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I write this article under my professional name, yet, as a Tennessee native, I am proud to have been born and raised in Columbia as a Pigg. 

My father, W.H. “Dub” Pigg Jr., carried on his father’s men’s clothing business there, which grew to include Murfreesboro and Pulaski along with the original Columbia store. Pigg & Parson’s was one of those businesses that welcomed a congregation of folks who would come to town on Saturday to pick up supplies, buy their first suit, or just sit up front in the chairs provided so they could catch up on the latest gossip and visit.

When the family nudge happened in Franklin, Paul Pigg took the helm at that store and was later joined by family friend Bill Peach. I remember how fun it was to be with Dad when he’d come up to work with cousin Paul and Bill, mainly because it was a sure bet that I’d get to sneak away to Franklin Theatre for a movie and popcorn. 

When my sister was old enough to go along, we’d cross the street holding hands making sure nothing kept us from watching out for each other. Franklin, Tennessee — lovely, friendly, loyal to a preservation of what’s true in our history even then — at least through the eyes of a 12-year-old.

When I look at the tall Tennessee farmer standing in the square downtown, I realize how sad it makes me at the sudden turn in our public discourse. How disrespectful it has become. How rigidly ideological many of its arguments are. 

I look up and see, despite the Confederate uniform and mustache, how young the men he represents were at the time. Not soldiers even, for they never trained and likely never imagined they would be faced with such choices. 

History records 90% of them as younger than 30. Not wealthy at all. Less than 10% owned a plantation or were ever slave owners. They fought for their farmland, their cows and chickens, and for the pair of mules they got at the mule sale down the road in Columbia. They fought for their wives and children, and their understanding of what it meant to be free.  

Caught in the political swell of the times, many of their stories bear witness to the conflicts that raged within and without them. Not so unlike those that rage around us today.

The Battle of Franklin hit close to home for most of them. Some 9,000 never made it back home — at least not to their earthly one. Yet, it was the preservation of this single battle that our national historical grant system found worthy of bestowing funds to commemorate. The use of these funds, spearheaded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and, later, the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, have upgraded this beautiful community into one of the more sought-after places to live, not only in the state, but in the nation. 

Respect for the truth of its history lives not without the bittersweet realization that much of the issue surrounding its battle was rooted in that which should never be repeated. History alone can teach this, when we have the courage to face it squarely and talk about it honestly. Lessons can be learned only when we are given the opportunity to fall and get back up, to fail and try again, to sin egregiously, be forgiven and extend forgiveness. 

Who among us wants to be judged years from now on decisions we must make today by those who never walked in our boots, or lived in the times we know, or had to choose between what they love most and what they would most love to correct in our land. When well-funded evil forces are on the march, it takes a particular kind of courage to meet them head on and stand against them. 

That kind of courage is also known as valor, a word reserved for the most pure in heart. 

Are we so pure in heart today that we can smugly topple statues of those in whose footsteps we never walked? Have we so abandoned respect for someone else’s property that we’re mindlessly convinced we have the right to deface it, defame it, destroy it? And finally, who among us is so righteous as to think he has the right to judge another, what another believes to be precious or how another is willing to use his own resources to preserve it? 

The young Tennessee farmer in the square is not safe today. And that is a tragedy, for he represents what we most need to learn. 

There was another incident that happened in a square, which I’m remembering now. A prostitute was huddled in the center of a crowd that was poised to stone her. A robed young man who took to her defense also wore a mustache, at least in many of the historical renderings of him. He reminded the crowd that whoever among them was free of any egregious error or mistake should throw the first stone. If you’re familiar with the story, then you know the prostitute was spared.

The tall Tennessee farmer in the square faces the same dilemma today. Although we don’t know one thing about how difficult or gut-wrenching the times in which he lived were to him, although we have no patience for giving him and his buddies the benefit of the doubt as to why they fought and although we care not a whit that his daughters found him so precious that they decided to erect a monument to his valor, many in our midst are ready to throw him like a stone at a history they cannot resist judging.  

So, shall we spare the prostitute and stone the young farmer?

Were the robed young man with the mustache in our Franklin square today, I can imagine him calling our farmer boy to speak with all the wisdom of the grave to those of us who so desperately need someone to point us in a healthy, healing direction. 

Can’t you just hear him now? Quoting, with all his heart, to all with ears to hear those now infamous words? Calling to his fallen buddies, to the ones they felled, and even to the ones it never occurred to them they might come to love?  

“It was for freedom we were made, my brothers. It was for freedom. Therefore, do not pick up again the yoke of slavery. Do not put on again the yoke of slavery.”

Then, let us not put that yoke on each other any longer. We all have skin in this game, no matter the color of it.

Spare the young confederate soldier.

Sherry Paige is a Franklin resident.

(3) comments

TheGunny

What a joke. They made a choice. Just as everyone has a choice. It’s also sad that you invoke the Bible in relation to something where slave owners used the Bible to make slaves believe that whites were superior. It’s also funny how people such as yourself try to find every excuse they can to support those who were traitors against the United States.

WCElvis

Tell us about your military service and the freedom of choice that you had while serving.

Charlene Kimmel

This is one of the most beautiful, well balanced essays I have seen on this subject. I am sorry to see the 2 acid-laced comments it has received. To me, this was the most relevant comment, and brought me pause: "Who among us wants to be judged years from now on decisions we must make today by those who never walked in our boots, or lived in the times we know, or had to choose between what they love most and what they would most love to correct in our land.". And yes, it does remind me of St Paul ( another Bible reference) 1 Cor 13:11.....When I was a child I thought like a child....... Fortunately, as we grow as children , nations, peoples in the world, our thoughts and opinions and mores change, hopefully for the better. That growth is only possible if we have free-will and malice towards none ..... I hope the United States will continue to grow in wisdom. And to do so we need to see our history in context so that each subsequent generation can see where we came from and where we are going and then can judge accordingly that they are on the path they intend.

I will be at the gathering at the Confederate statue on Saturday at 4 to urge people to leave the statue and the Fuller Story statues and plaques in place so that people can know the history and learn from it.

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