A statue honoring the US Colored Troops was unveiled across the street from a Confederate monument in Tennessee

A statue honoring the US Colored Troops was unveiled across the street from a Confederate monument in Tennessee
Mark Humphrey/AP

When numerous cities across America fought to remove Confederate monuments, a city in Tennessee chose to refocus attention on the contributions of Black people in the Civil War.

After years of planning, the city of Franklin, Tennessee, unveiled a statue of a United States Colored Troops soldier on Saturday. The monument honors the approximately 180,000 Black people who joined the Union Army.

“What does this statue mean? This statue means hope, it means courage, it means possibility, it means dignity, it means valor,” the Rev. Chris Williamson, a pastor who helped lead the effort to erect the statue, told the dozens of people who attended the unveiling ceremony on Saturday.

The bronze “March to Freedom” statue in Franklin, about 20 miles south of Nashville, depicts a soldier with a foot stepping on a tree stump and holding a rifle across his knee.

It stands on the city’s downtown square, in front of a courthouse where numerous Black people enlisted in the Union Army and just across the street from a Confederate monument installed in 1899.

The efforts to raise the statue, led by a group of local pastors including Williamson and historian Eric Jacobson, began four years ago when White supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for a rally opposing the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Americans were jolted by footage of fighting among White nationalists, supremacists and counterprotesters.

The violence culminated when James Fields — who joined White nationalists and others opposed to the city’s decision to remove the statue — drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters. Dozens were injured and Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was killed.

Faith leaders initially pitched the idea of installing historical markers depicting the Black experience from slavery to Jim Crow, which prompted a lawsuit over the ownership of the square, CNN affiliate WTVF reported. The markers and statue were installed after the yearslong legal battle was resolved.

In a statement, city officials applauded the group’s efforts, saying they worked together to “provide proactive solutions surrounding the controversy of Confederate monuments” and ultimately produced a plan what would focus “on education and representation.”

There are a number of memorials dedicated to Black soldiers who served during the Civil War across the country, including those in Boston, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Key West, Florida.

But the story of Black soldiers during the Civil War remains unfamiliar to many and is inspiring advocates and descendants to take action.

Damon Radcliffe, a law enforcement officer in Virginia, says most people don’t understand what the Black troops had to endure during the Civil War. Because of that, he’s working with the American Battlefield Trust, a group dedicated to preserve the country’s battlegrounds, to preserve battlefield land where his great-great grandfather fought.

It took Radcliffe decades to learn that his great-great grandfather was one of the 14 Black soldiers who fought in the 1864 Battle of New Market Heights in Virginia, and received a Medal of Honor.

When Radcliffe was a teenager, his grandfather mentioned that an ancestor fought in the Civil War but no one shared more details with him. It wasn’t until a reenactment group contacted his family in 2006 that he began learning more about his family’s history.

“They were people they, they had feelings, they had ambitions. For some of them, joining the Army gave them an opportunity to help build this country, help support their families later on in life,” Radcliffe told CNN.

His great-great grandfather, Edward Ratcliff, was 29 when he left the fields, walked from James City County to Yorktown and joined the 38th Regiment of the US Colored Troops, Radcliffe says.

During the Battle of New Market Heights, Ratcliff was forced to lead his company when a commanding officer was killed. For his actions, he was promoted to sergeant major and awarded the Medal of Honor.

Ratcliff’s drive to serve the country has been replicated for many generations, he said.

“Our family legacy is a sense of community service, whether it be in the military, whether it be local government,” said Radcliffe, adding that his brother is a Marine veteran and their grandfather fought in World War II.

Radcliffe he hopes to bring attention to the contributions of those who fought along his great-great grandfather. He thinks the legacies of those soldiers, like the one of his own family, should not be forgotten.

The-CNN-Wire
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