CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — Construction on the Ed Johnson Memorial at the Walnut Street Bridge has begun, during a time of racial unrest.
“We need the message now more than ever,” Ed Johnson Committee co-chair Steve Derthick said.
Peaceful protests, race riots, and marred monuments. The nation is at an impasse of constant controversy over racial injustice and the death of George Floyd.
As work on the Ed Johnson Memorial begins in Chattanooga, the memorial’s artist Jerome Meadows recognizes the similarities of Floyd and Johnson’s deaths — despite being 114 years apart.
“We’re dealing currently now with the same issues that affected Ed Johnson,” Meadows said. “I like to consider the comparison between now the lynching is your knee to the neck as opposed to a rope.”
In the wake of Floyd’s death, Confederate monuments are coming down all across the South. The Ed Johnson Memorial will take that change a step further.
“We could talk about tearing something down because of the negative representation, but what is timely about this Ed Johnson Memorial is that we’re actually proactively bringing forth an aspect of the story from a black man’s point of view that brings a truth to bear that had long been overlooked,” Meadows said.
“Without the truth, you can’t get to reconciliation,” Ed Johnson Committee co-chair LaFrederick Thirkill said. “Sometimes, the truth isn’t always easy, and sometimes, the truth isn’t pretty. But you have to walk through the truth and own it before you can get to the next step of healing.”
The monument itself will be placed at the beginning of next year, in time for its March dedication.
“This is about projecting strength and ways of coming together to keep our yesterdays and the horrors of those from becoming our tomorrow, so we can finally put this issue to rest,” Meadows said.