A Lee University student who published a petition online in early June as part of an effort to relocate a Confederate statue in downtown Cleveland, has acknowledged that — although she is not satisfied by a statement issued Monday by the local chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy — she and others will continue to work to help find a solution.
“We're still looking into legal ways to have this monument peacefully removed,” Lee University political science major Kelsey Elaine told the Cleveland Daily Banner.
The UDOC statement was published in Tuesday’s edition of the Banner.
In the position narrative, Linda Ballew, president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy–Jefferson Davis Chapter 900, said an "overwhelming majority of Cleveland residents are rallying around our beloved Cleveland monument," adding the organization will "never compromise."
Ballew stressed the UDOC is not a racist organization. In addition, she said the organization is preparing for possible litigation as part of its stand to keep the statue where it is.
But Elaine, the college junior who started the petition movement for the statue's relocation, said UDOC is misleading the public about Confederate history.
Although Elaine is from Nashville, she attends college here and said she considers herself a Cleveland resident.
“Anyone who says this statue does not stand for racism and oppression is either lying, severely misguided or has been taught very biased Southern history,” she said.
The statue, which stands atop a granite pedestal, is located at the intersection of Ocoee, Broad and Eighth streets near downtown Cleveland. It was constructed by the UDOC in 1910, and dedicated during a ceremony attended by Confederate and Union veterans in 1911.
The statue and the plot where it stands has been owned by the UDOC since it was conveyed to them by the city of Cleveland in 1911.
“The UDOC is not recognizing how deeply racism is rooted and how people who are racist and who have insulted me and who have insulted others and threatened others are trying to protect the statue,” Elaine said.
In her petition, Elaine suggested the statue be moved to a location where it can be viewed in a more historical context. Its current location fails to accomplish that, according to Elaine.
“This statue honors a period of history that should be remembered, but not celebrated,” Elaine wrote in her petition, which was posted on change.org. “We do not need a statue situated on one of Cleveland's busiest streets to remember history. Those seeking the statue's removal understand the hesitation to demolish this mark of history.”
Since the petition was posted on June 8, the site where the statue stands has been the focal point of almost nightly protests by those who support its relocation and by those who oppose it.
Elaine charged that peaceful protesters have been verbally abused, received death threats, followed home and "doxxed," the term used when personal information is posted on the internet, by those who are against relocating the statue.
During a meeting of the Bradley Constitutionalists on June 24, former Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls took issue with those who are protesting at the Confederate monument in Cleveland, and admitted that he had tracked their movements.
“A large amount of the people that have been at this protest are not from here,” he said. “I went to their car. I followed them. I took their tag numbers … I got pictures of them. I followed three: all three were from outside Bradley County.”
While Elaine stressed the UDOC has not engaged in harassing protesters, she said that many who oppose removing the statue from the intersection have been abusive and threatening.
“We have receipts of these occurrences,” Elaine said. “I understand standing up for what you believe in, but threatening people with death over a statue is never OK.”
She said her peaceful petition has placed her in the spotlight, where she receives threats and racist insults daily from people who express views similar to what the UDOC holds regarding Southern heritage.
“Even a county commissioner has resorted to bullying tactics against me when I’ve been nothing but civil and kind,” Elaine said. “It’s sickening. I only want the best for my city. In fact, my petition asked for the monument to be relocated so we could understand our city’s history better. I didn’t ask to erase history like I am being accused of.”
Elaine is referring to Bradley County Commissioner Charlotte Peak, who she said has hurled insults at her including addressing her as “little girl” in a social media post.
“I stand by what I said, and I stand by my petition,” Elaine said. “This does not assuage me. I recognize the target that has been placed on my head, but I will stand firm in this cause to make Cleveland a better city for all its inhabitants."
On Tuesday night, Peak responded to the Banner's request to address Elaine's comments.
"I did say, 'Little girl, you have no clue what you're talking about,' and she doesn't," Peak said. "She's 20 years old and has no idea what it stands for and what it doesn't stand for. This is what she's been taught."
Peak said Elaine's generation is naive to the facts regarding the statue.
"They don't have the age and the wisdom to understand what things are about, and they cannot start tearing down American history," Peak added.
The commissioner said she has also received her share of threats.
"I was contacted by some higher authorities who had credible death threats against me and my property," she said.
Nonetheless, Peak said she will not back down and has the support of the majority of her constituents.
Elaine said she will “continue seeking peaceful and legal methods.”
“I want the city to know I would never dare incite violence against the monument because I don’t believe in violence,” she said. “My methods will always be peaceful, and I will always try to show the spirit of Christ in this endeavor.”
Elaine said she wants others to understand that her goal is to relocate the statue to preserve, as well as accurately tell history.
“There is absolutely no destruction occurring,” she said, adding that she and others who are working to relocate the monument are committed to their cause and are not “seeking a few minutes of fame,” as claimed by Ballew in the UDOC’s statement.
Tee Davis, who is a member of Black Lives Matter, said he thinks the UDOC’s statement sidesteps the monument’s Confederate heritage.
He took issue with Ballew’s suggestion, “The soldier that stands atop the monument could be blue as well as gray."
“There is nothing signifying that the statue represents soldiers from both sides of the war,” he said. “Though they preach they have nothing to do with the past or support old views, it still does not change the fact of the statue’s original intention was to create remembrance of what the Confederate States fought for.”
He said the opposing side's arguments to leave the statue where it is fall flat.
“I still have not yet heard a legit argument of why the monument cannot be moved to an educational facility,” he said. “‘Wanting to preserve our heritage is not a proper rebuttal.’”