Eric Jacobson

Eric Jacobson was one of the speakers at last October's Fuller Story unveiling.

“Both parties deprecated war but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

When President Abraham Lincoln spoke those words in March 1865, the American Civil War had been raging for four years. Some 700,000 soldiers were dead, and likely 50,000 civilians, too. Perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 enslaved people — men, women and children — had also died in their desperate efforts to escape and be free.

The people of the 1860s — white and black — knew what was at stake and were aware of the political and social winds that swirled around them. Their experiences were not theoretical ones and they were not contained within the characters of a Twitter or Facebook post. They lived, breathed and died the harsh realities of the mid-19th century.

Monuments to soldiers, both North and South, were dedicated and unveiled for decades after the Civil War. One that stands in the town square in Bedford, Ohio, is indicative of many monuments to U. S. soldiers who had fought in the war.  The inscription on its base reads:

“Erected as a memorial to the men that enlisted in the service of the U. S. during the War of 1861-1865.”

On Nov. 30, 1899, a Confederate monument was unveiled in the Franklin town square. Words were also carved into its base — ones that were carefully chosen:

“No country ever had truer sons. No cause nobler champions.”

Those who erected the monument here in Franklin believed that. However, think about those words for a moment. In 1899, those who unveiled and dedicated the monument believed their cause and their soldiers were more noble than those who had founded the United States of America. It was a given that they were more noble than, for example, men from Bedford, Ohio. Let that sink in.

I believe history is one of our greatest treasures and, at times, one of our greatest dilemmas. The founding of the United States of America, the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution stand in stark contrast to the secession movement, which created the Confederacy. It is long overdue that we separate the two and shine a bright light between them.

Some in our community believe the Confederate monument should be removed.  I respectfully and earnestly disagree. I want every person possible — young and old — to read the words on the base of the statue and consider what the Confederacy really was. The Confederacy was the crystallization of race and slavery, but it was also an effort to dismantle the progressive work of our founding and of our moral compass. It was an effort to throw away the noble words of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and yes, George Washington. 

“All men are created equal” was to be replaced with “Our new government is founded upon…the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man…” 

It is time for us to confront these realities directly and without fear.

Let us also not fall into the trap of thinking that all Confederate monuments, especially those to collective groups of soldiers, were put up simply because of Jim Crow. The Lost Cause mythology that reshaped the narrative of the war was the most powerful instrument behind dotting the Southern landscape with monuments. The Lost Cause redefined the Confederacy and redefined education in the South for generations. It made the Confederacy noble and righteous.  Slavery was shunted to the side and treated as a benign institution. The North became the villain. Jim Crow was punitive and harsh. The Lost Cause was genteel and romantic.

We are fortunate that we do not have a statue of a Confederate leader in our town square. We are not debating the likeness of Lee, Davis or Forrest. There is also a fundamental difference between a monument unveiled in a town in 1899 and a bust dedicated in 1978 in a state government building. 

We should also be aware that there exists a legal and administrative process for change. The Confederate monument cannot be removed simply because some think it should be removed.

By this time next year my fervent hope is that a life-size bronze statue to a black man in a US Army uniform — a USCT soldier — will stand in front of the historic courthouse. There is no need for him to stand atop a tall stone shaft as if he were immortal and unreachable. He will stand on our level — a person among people. He will represent a black man who was not a citizen, a man who was not treated equally under the law, but a man who chose to fight for the United States of America. He will embody someone who chose to fight to free himself and the divided country from the sins of slavery.

My other hope is that people who visit and see the USCT statue will then walk to the center of the square and decide for themselves what was noble, and what was not. Let them consider both elements of history. Let them read the interpretive markers that were placed in the fall of 2019 and let them consider the true nature of the Confederacy. That has always been the goal of the Fuller Story.

If people who visit Franklin do not go to a museum or a historic site like Carter House or Carnton, but can still learn something while they are in our town square we will all be the beneficiaries. 

Let us not forget, what we do here in Franklin is not just about Franklin. People from across the country and the world visit here. Let us show them how a community can reckon with its past to better and sincerely understand what we want the future to be.

Eric Jacobson

CEO of Battle of Franklin Trust