Collierville Confederate marker draws mixed reactions from candidates

By , Daily Memphian Updated: October 16, 2020 9:10 AM CT | Published: October 16, 2020 4:00 AM CT

The Confederate monument on the historic Collierville town square has become a tinderbox of disputes in recent months, and candidates for alderman have mixed reactions regarding the controversial issue.

Some want to preserve the monument on the town square. Others think moving it to another spot or a museum is appropriate. Some take the diplomatic wait-and-see option until they are on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to decide the matter. Others say they are limited in what they can do because of state regulations.

Protests have occurred on the square with residents from Collierville and Shelby County seeking its removal or relocation. But residents – some of whom were indifferent to the monument until recently – believe it’s a reminder of the past and should remain in its highly visible spot on the west side of Town Square Park.


Six arrested after vandalism of Confederate monument in Collierville


The relic was donated to the town by United Daughters of Confederacy more than 70 years ago and commemorates battles fought during the Civil War.

At a recent meeting, Mayor Stan Joyner asked if board members wanted to discuss the monument’s location at a future meeting, and none of the aldermen responded.

Alderman John Worley, who is seeking reelection for Position 3, notes that not taking action is the “stance of the entire board.”

“Unfortunately, we have had a lot of outsiders that have been to the town, expressing their opinions, rather than letting the issue be dealt with among Collierville residents,” he said, acknowledging he has talked with some who want it removed.

One of his opponents, Harold Booker, said “citizens (should) decide one way or the other the best course of action.”

“Get all the facts, and from the facts you analyze some options,” Booker said. “Keep the citizens informed of what’s going on and then make a decision.”


Booker, Swan challenging Worley for Collierville Alderman Position 3


He said many of those protesting are white. They recognize the Civil War history but want to see the marker in a more historically appropriate place, like Tom Brooks Park.

“What is it going to take for the Board of Aldermen to allow this monument – that the citizens have a concern about – be put on the agenda to have a discussion?” he said. “Elected officials are put there by the citizens.”

Thomas Swan, Worley’s other opponent, notes there are passionate opinions on both sides. He is interested in hearing more but is cautious about any removal.

“I’d be hesitant to remove a memorial without a lot of thought,” he said. “I think any action that gets taken to preserve, augment or remove, needs to be done deliberately but with a lot of thought.”

He has not appreciated the name-calling by protesters at recent board meetings.

He said a group of people will need to determine a desired goal and resolution and any action should be “as respectful as possible to everybody.”

Missy Marshall, a candidate for for Position 4, is proud of Collierville’s rich history.

“I absolutely believe we should protect, preserve and celebrate our town heritage,” she said, adding that she wants “to hear all voices. Good leaders listen and find solutions to bring the community together.”

Marshall said the area of the marker honoring fallen soldiers was never named “Confederate Park” even though the monument bears those words. She, like other candidates, wants to hear from those who want the memorial removed and to consider solutions that bring people together.

“As a leader, I am willing to listen and not be forced,” she said, adding she frowns on outsiders “coming into our community and forcing their will upon our citizens. I am certainly not for people’s views being communicated in a profane or hostile or threatening manner.”


Suburban down-ballot races are competitive


At 21, Connor Lambert is the youngest candidate on the ballot and is also seeking Position 4. He expressed disappointment that the board has not addressed the marker.

“I don’t think it has a place in our town square,” he said. “As a monument erected in the era of white supremacy in the South and Jim Crow America, it shouldn’t be part of Collierville’s future.”

He suggested placing it in a more historically appropriate place, like the Morton Museum of Collierville History, for those who value it. He recognizes the board has limited power under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, but would propose a resolution stating it is the preference of the town that it move from its current spot.

Robert Smith, also seeking Alderman Position 4, differs from Lambert and believes the marker is there to remember the Battle of Collierville. 

“There’s nothing on it that says it is to elevate either side,” he said, echoing the stance of other residents. Smith thinks the monument should be left alone.

“It’s definitely not there in a hateful way, that I see,” he said. “It’s there to remember a painful time in the past. I think it’s good to have these reminders there so we know what parts of our past we don’t want to happen again.”

Rick Rout, one of Smith’s opponents, also leans to the marker being about heritage and history and wants the monument to remain in the park.

“I think when you start erasing history you are doomed to repeat it, and it’s never in a positive way,” he said. “The monument to the (Civil War) veterans doesn’t mention anything about what the BLM movement or Antifa movement is talking about, and I am for keeping history – whether good or bad – here. That’s not a bad monument.”

He said some monuments in Shelby County should be relocated but not Collierville’s. 

“I don’t think we need to move a monument because 300 protestors showed up and 301 of them aren’t from Collierville,” he said. “What’s best for Collierville is what people of Collierville want.”

He said if it were put on a future ballot, he would support whatever the majority of the people decided.


Six seeking Alderman Position 4; runoff likely


Scott Rozanski, another candidate for Position 4, said the town cannot have a “knee-jerk” reaction, but he would like leaders to deal with the marker in the next year. 

“We need to find a solution that may include compromise from both sides, that then can be lived with from this point forward,” he said. “I don’t want to pass it on.”

He would like to see opposing viewpoints, including clergy and local organizations, in a focus group to examine the relic. He said stakeholders must be from Collierville because it is the town’s issue.

William Boone, a Position 4 hopeful, wants to ask the state to cover up the portion of the monument saying “Confederate Park.” He doesn’t have an issue but said the monument actually helped him grow.

“Today’s world is different than it was when I was coming up,” he said. “I think it’s history. I think we have a town full of history. … There was a war fought here, you can’t ever change that.”

He would also be in favor of a plaque explaining why the monument says “Confederate Park” and the history of naming it “Town Square Park.”

Greg Frazier, who is challenging Alderman John Stamps for Position 5, said few residents in Collierville, especially on the south side, have strong opinions on the item. His grandfather was born a slave.

“As far as closeness to slavery, I think there’s not very many people one generation removed,” he said. “The monument is dedicated to those who fought. I have relatives who were wounded here.”

Protesters want to move it to another park, but he wonders how relocation would eliminate the offensiveness.

“People need to have an open discussion with no hidden agendas, and remove some of the emotion,” he said. “(A decision) should be made in a rational setting.”

He also suggested a focus group, but knows the final result, if and when decided, will not please everyone.

“We have lost the art of being civil,” he said. “To call someone racist because of the color of their skin is ridiculous. People have no control over their skin color, but they do have the control of their attitude.”


Frazier challenges incumbent Stamps for Alderman Position 5 in Collierville


Stamps doesn’t like the anger, aggression and intimidation the issue has brought. 

“The marker is the marker,” he said. “Racism is how we treat each other. How we treat each other right now, and how we are being treated is uncomfortable because of a marker.”

He said the way it has been handled would cause Martin Luther King Jr. “to roll over in his grave.”

He is open to a task force examining the issue with a diverse group of clergy, attorneys, community leaders and Collierville stakeholders.

He said he is sensitive to the topic but also noted it has been there several years. He stated the removal is a decision at the state level and the board recognizes that it is governed by the Tennessee Historical Commission and not under local jurisdiction.

Topics

Collierville United Daughters of Confederacy Confederate monuments Collierville Town Square Town Square Park Missy Marshall Connor Lambert William Boone Rick Rout Scott Rozanski Robert Smith John Worley John Stamps Harold Booker Thomas Swan Greg Frazier
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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