Jackson County Commissioners on Tuesday stuck by the placement location they selected earlier this month for a new monument on the courthouse grounds that would honor African-American military members who served the U.S. in France during World War I, mostly in supporting roles since they were not allowed to carry arms in those days. Some of them died on the battlefield, nevertheless.
Curley Spires Potter, a descendant of the man who had originally obtained county permission to erect the monument back in 1919, but who died before that happened, is trying to fulfill the dream of her grandfather, Armstrong Purdee. She is raising money to buy the structure and have it erected.
Today’s commissioners a few weeks ago approved fulfilling the action authorized by that long-ago county board, but the monument’s location is still a matter of disagreement between the commissioners and Spires-Potter.
She wants the monument placed alongside the Confederate monument that sits on the lawn just north of the front entrance steps. Board members declined that placement, instead voting to allow it placed near the existing monument on the northwest corner of the lawn, slightly farther north and west of the location favored by Spires-Potter. Most board members say they believe that would be the most logical place because it would tie this monument in with the other and give monument visitors a more convenient place to see both.
Spires-Potter says she wants it in the other location because, in part, it would provide symmetry and balance by providing a visual counterweigh to the Confederate monument. She also objects to the board’s chosen location because she says she believes the new monument would at certain angles be hidden or obscured behind the existing monument. She also says she believes that placing it on the northwest corner with the other would create a cluttered appearance in that spot.
On Tuesday, accompanied by local NAACP chapter president Ronstance Pittman and others who spoke on her behalf, she tried to persuade the board to reconsider, but commissioners took no action and their appointed location stands.
The exchanges between some board members and some presenters were sometimes confrontational in tone.
Pittman questioned the board as to why it would not accept Spires-Potter’s requested location, and then played a tape of a previous board meeting in which one commissioner, Chuck Lockey, had commented that it was up to the board as to the location and in doing so had used the phrase “It’s our courthouse.”
Pittman challenged that, asking whether the board considered the courthouse theirs or the citizens of the county. In response to her question, Pate defended the phrasing of the other commissioner, indicating that he’d meant it to indicate that the courthouse is the board’s to control as stewards of the citizenry’s collective assets.
One commissioner, Dr. Willie Spires, has consistently supported her request for the other location during the several times the matter has been discussed by the board.
He has in previous sessions expressed a belief that the majority of the board is micromanaging the placement issue to an unprecedented degree, and on Tuesday Spires-Potter also questioned the degree of control asserted by the board. In asking board members why the spot she wants is not acceptable, she also commented on the number of other occasions that she’d had to appear before the board to sort things out.
Pate offered one explanation of that, saying that the content of her request had changed from meeting to meeting, indicating, for instance, that she had not initially asked that the monument be placed in the particular location she later did specifically request.
He also noted that he had initially understood that she’d wanted the memorial to honor those who died in service but that now it appears she wants all 418 names of those who served, including those who survived and came home.
Spires-Potter responded to that by saying that the men, as African-Americans in a time where racism was commonly life-threatening, had never properly honored for their service. Furthermore, she asserted, some of those soldiers who came home were allegedly later “lynched in their uniforms” and deserved in death belated honors.
When Pate commented that “things have changed,” his words brought scattered murmurs of apparent disagreement from some seated in the room.
The location, and now, it appears, the content of the monument, remains a point of disagreement.
Only one person speaking from the floor expressed support for the board’s decision on the location.