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Sullivan mayor proclaims April to be Confederate Heritage and History Month

April 19th, 2007 12:36 am by J. H. Osborne

BLOUNTVILLE - Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey has declared April to be Confederate Heritage and History Month in Sullivan County. This year and each year "hereafter."

Tonight, the Sullivan County Historical and Genealogical Society is hosting a free public lecture on a Confederate States of America general.

The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Sullivan County Archives, next door to the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

Randall Osborne, author and Civil War expert, will make a presentation on C.S.A. General Humphrey Marshall (1812-1872), Sullivan County Archivist Shelia Hunt said.

Also in honor of Confederate History Month, the Archives partnered with a local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) to present a Confederate history exhibit in the courthouse.

Hunt said the area used for the display - a French-doored alcove under to the right of the main staircase on the first floor - is controlled by the Archives, but the exhibit's contents were selected and provided by the SCV.

There was a skirmish of sorts last week over a portion of the display. Gary Melvin, of Bluff City, asked members of the Sullivan County Commission's Building Committee to immediately remove a framed story saying "history is wrong." Melvin said the story - which depicts Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox as unintentional because the former assumed the latter to be an orderly and handed him his sword expecting it to be polished - was making fun of national history.

Hunt said she believed the item was intended to be "tongue in cheek." She said it was removed from the exhibit after Melvin's complaint.

The exhibit includes the matted and framed proclamation signed by Godsey.

It reads, in part:

•"Whereas, our country is a nation of people united by a common history, individual heritage, and diverse cultures, Sullivan County is rich in the history and heritage of the ‘War Between the States'; and

•"Whereas, on June 8, 1861, the citizens of the State of Tennessee voted to declare the state to be free and independent and subsequently joined the Confederate States of America of which it was a member from 1861 until 1865; and

•"Whereas, Sullivan County was the only county in upper East Tennessee that voted to approve secession; and

•"Whereas, Sullivan Countians have admirably answered the call to serve our state, and many now lie in unmarked graves across the southland where they fell in defense of their homes...

•"Now, Therefore, I, Steve M. Godsey, Mayor of Sullivan County, Tennessee, do hereby declare and proclaim that the month of April 2007 and each month of April hereafter shall be designated as ‘Confederate Heritage and History Month' within the borders of Sullivan County, Tennessee. Furthermore, I encourage all citizens to increase their knowledge of the role the Confederate States of America played in writing the history of our county, state and nation because it is vital to the understanding of who and what we are."

Melvin was at last week's Building Committee meeting to seek the group's approval to display two historical documents - including the farewell address of the nation's first president, George Washington - on the courthouse walls.

His presentation to the committee did not include exact measurements or any specific design for the documents - but he said Washington's Farewell Address would likely need two or three times as much space as another document already on display at the courthouse.

In early 2000, Melvin began efforts to have the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom displayed at the courthouse - alongside the Ten Commandments, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Melvin gained approval from county commissioners, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was posted in the courthouse last year. It's about 2 feet wide and 3 or 4 feet tall.

Melvin said he'd likely have to have two or three frames similar to that size to display Washington's Farewell Address.

Building Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said he wasn't sure there was that much space available to display more historical documents in the courthouse.

Melvin pointed out many of the walls are bare. Williams said not all the walls would be used to display historical documents.

Melvin said if the entire courthouse was plastered with documents from the nation's history, then that would be the time to worry about whether any room was available for more.

Melvin said if the committee decides to start rejecting documents for display, the county needs to have its lawyers ready - because he has his, they're the American Civil Liberties Union, they went to Harvard and Yale, and they're free.

The Building Committee did not vote on Melvin's request.

On Monday, Williams introduced a resolution to the Sullivan County Commission to limit the amount of space available for display of historical documents.

Introduced on first reading, the measure could come for a vote by the commission next month.

If approved it will designate "an official area within the ... courthouse to display and house historical documents, plaques and/or other items; said ‘Historical Gallery' to be located at the main entrance to the right of the marble staircase on the first floor."

Much of the area described is already occupied, by the Ten Commandments, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

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