HAYWOOD COUNTY, Tenn. — Led by a high school teenager mature beyond his years, a movement is growing out of a small Tennessee city to remove a vestiture of the country’s painful past.
The teen started a petition drive to remove a Confederate statue from the grounds of the Haywood County courthouse.
The statue has a clear purpose: to honor Haywood County residents that served in the Confederate army.
It’s been in front of the courthouse as long as anyone can remember, but the statue came under scrutiny last week when the county mayor’s office ordered it to be power washed.
“In light of all the things going on in America right now, you’d think he’d be sensitive to people of color especially,” said Trey Cunningham, who’s leading the statue petition.
“It looked very unsightly,” Haywood County Mayor David Livingston said. “It wasn’t met as an affront to anybody whatsoever. It was very unsightly.”
The county estimates the statue has stood for more than 110 years, which is a stark contrast to the age of the people hoping to get it removed.
Cunningham is only a rising senior at Haywood High School, while other organizers are college students.
Inspired in part by protests both in the Mid-South and across the country, they said the statue carries a painful burden.
“We all know what the Confederacy stood for,” Cunningham said. “It was solely based around slavery, a time of bigotry, a time of hatred.”
“It was just time to do something,” petition organizer Temple Taylor said. “When you see it going on in your own community, and then you see it in the world, it’s like, ‘Hey, I can fix this, so I’m going to start here.'”
The county took some action and hosted an organizational meeting Tuesday night to plan at least five community hearings, hoping to hear from residents before making a permanent move.
“It’ll be over different portions of the county to ask people their opinion of it and what needs to happen,” Mayor Livingston said.
The leaders behind the petition are optimistic, but they want to see real change before they’re satisfied.
“The meetings are a starting point,” Cunningham said. “Even after, if the statue does come down, there’s still a lot of work to be done in community engagement.”
No official dates have been set for community hearings yet, but Mayor Livingston is meeting with petition organizers later this week.