We Don't All Think Alike: Why the statue of General Tilghman must be moved

Paducah's Elected Officials

September 2, 2017

An Open Letter to the Elected Officials of the City of Paducah,

After much prayer and dialogue we, the members of the Community Clergy Fellowship, Community Coming Together, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Paducah McCracken County Chapter) and the Paducah Area African Methodist Episcopal Churches, are voicing our concerns about the statue of Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman. The vast majority of Black citizens in this city emphatically do NOT want to preserve the painful legacy of slavery and white supremacy represented by the public display of the Confederate statue that is in our midst.

The Confederate flag and statues do not represent heritage to us. They represent hate. For example, on June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof walked into Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and, after being embraced by those who assembled for bible study, sat for 15 minutes, then fired 70 rounds hitting 10 people and killing nine. Roof, who posted photos holding the Confederate flag, killed these Black worshipers because he said he wanted to reinstate segregation.[1] His views, confirmed by his Confederate beliefs and symbolized by the Confederate flag, are that Black people are inferior to white people, that slavery was justified, and that Black lives did not matter. It was exactly these same beliefs that were codified into every Southern State’s Declaration of Secession and continue to be symbolized by these monuments.

Noted historian Dr. Edward Ayers, explained in a PBS special that white southerners wrote slavery out of the history of the Civil War and stated that “had [the Confederacy] won, you would’ve had an independent nation overseeing the largest and most powerful system of slavery in the modern world . . . it’s harder and harder for the older story — the Confederacy as merely a defense of states’ rights against the federal government — to stand.” [2] Subsequently, despite what revisionists may claim, the main reason the Civil War was fought was to preserve the rights of some people to own other human beings.

When we talk about states fighting to defend the institution of “slavery,” Lloyd Tilghman, who owned at least five African human beings under this system, is not exempt. Tilghman, an America Army veteran before the Civil War, is celebrated for his service in the Confederate Army—a move that is considered treasonous as he swore to defend the Constitution of the United States then joined the Confederate army and fought to destroy the Union.[3] These soldiers committed treason on behalf of the institution of “slavery” and white supremacy, which said institution was predicated upon.

Unlike statues dedicated to George Washington which commemorate him as the first president of a unified nation, Confederate monuments serve only to keep national divisions alive while denigrating and dehumanizing Black citizens. This is why the monuments must come down. Not just in Baltimore, Dallas, Lexington, New Orleans or Charleston but everywhere. And “everywhere” includes Paducah. Some people would like to pretend that Paducah exists in isolation and is exempt from the history of white supremacy as it pertains to these monuments. That is not so. Tilghman fought on behalf of an army to keep an entire population enslaved. The Daughters of the Confederacy erected such monuments to reinforce white supremacy during the “Redemption Period” which was defined as “the return of white supremacy and the removal of rights for Blacks – instead of Reconstruction.”[4] They were never intended to celebrate military heroes as Tilghman graduated at the bottom of his class at West Point and the Confederacy lost the war.[5] They were reminders of slavery, lynchings, Jim and Jane Crow, racial inequality, de-facto segregation and of the fact that slavery never really ended it just reinvented itself.          

This is not the “flavor of the day.” We are talking about racism, not Baskin Robbins. Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors. Racism doesn’t. Racism is rooted in white supremacy, power, privilege, and hatred of people due to the color of their skin. Flavors are rooted in spices and artificial flavoring. To compare the two or even suggest the two are interconnected is immoral, offensive, unethical and grossly irresponsible. It minimizes how life and death are rooted in the way person thinks and it reduces the fight for humanity and equal justice to a catch phrase, slogan and rhetorical jargon. It does not grapple with the reality that we live in a world that mass-produces people like Dylann Roof.

That is our past and it is horrible, but white supremacy does not need to be our future. There is now an opportunity before us to do better. The litmus test of any community is always how it deals with the concerns of those whom it has historically oppressed. By removing these monuments from public spaces and relocating them on private property, we as a city will be making a powerful statement about our intention to move forward as a more humane, just, and united city.

We are not trying to erase history, as the statue does not contain any significant historical facts or truths worth repeating, we are trying to correct history by no longer rubbing salt in old wounds. When the statue is removed we suggest that a plaque be put in its place detailing why the statue was removed as well as listing the names of the enslaved Africans that Lloyd Tilghman owned and whose identities were erased from history. And maybe one day the city of Paducah will erect a monument listing all of the names of enslaved Africans who no one dared to mention, no one bothered to learn, and no one has yet to remember.

We leave you with these words by James Baldwin:

It is a terrible thing for an entire people to surrender to the notion that one-ninth of its population is beneath them. Until the moment comes when we, the Americans, are able to accept the fact that my ancestors are both Black and white, that on that continent we are trying to forge a new identity, that we need each other, that I am not a ward of America, I am not an object of missionary charity, I am one of the people who built the country—until this moment comes there is scarcely any hope for the American dream.[6]

Together We Stand,

Community Clergy Fellowship
Community Coming Together
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Paducah McCracken County Chapter)
Paducah Area African Methodist Episcopal Churches

[1] Federal Bureau of Investigation: Dylann Roof Video Interrogation (6/18/2016)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKRoFoy_Hpc (accessed 9/1/17)
[2] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/shifting-history-Confederate-monuments/ (accessed 8/29/17)
[3] For additional information see Confederate Veteran, Volume 25
[4] https://www.neh.gov/news/reconstruction-vs-redemption (accessed 8/31/17)
[5] Dougherty, Kevin. The Vicksburg Campaign: Strategy, Battles and Key Figures. McFarland, 2015. Pg 29
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-dream.html?mcubz=0 (accessed 8/31/17)

To: Paducah's Elected Officials
From: [Your Name]

It's time to remove the statue.