City of Franklin lawsuit against United Daughters of Confederacy will determine who owns land on Town Square


City of Franklin lawsuit against United Daughters of Confederacy will determine who owns land on Town Square

PHOTO: On August 28, 1900, the United Daughters of the Confederacy group which had erected the statue on town square posed with it./City of Franklin

By BROOKE WANSER

On Friday, the City of Franklin filed a lawsuit against the United Daughters of the Confederacy, seeking to determine who owns the land on public square where a Confederate monument stands.

The city took action after the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy threatened legal action should Franklin’s board allow a coalition of religious and preservation leaders to place historic markers on town square.

In a complaint filed in Williamson County’s chancery court Friday afternoon, the city requested the court to rule on who owns the land comprising the public square park.

Lawsuit and background

According to the suit, the county’s court convened in 1899, giving the UDC’s local chapter permission to erect a monument to the memory of Confederate soldiers on the public square.

Minutes reflect the court granted the UDC a deed to the amount of land needed to build such a monument, but the deed was never filed.

During the streetscape beautification efforts of the 1980s and 90s, the city claims it revitalized the public square park with no help from the UDC, who did not claim the property.

City Administrator Eric Stuckey said no formal action was required from the UDC when the city placed carriages for the Union cannons on the square in 2014.

By 2010, the city and the UDC had come to the agreement that the city would maintain the public square park and the monument.

Plans for markers detailing African-American history

During a Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting in August, a coalition of pastors and Battle of Franklin Trust CEO Eric Jacobson spoke to city leaders about creating markers to detail African-American Civil War history and placing them on town square, in addition to a United States Colored Troops soldier monument to be placed elsewhere.

Board members responded overwhelmingly in support of the initiative.

But during a Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting last week, attorney Doug Jones spoke on behalf of the United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter 14, threatening litigation should the city allow markers on what the group believes is their property.

“That was pretty different from our understanding,” Stuckey said.

In the lawsuit, the city says the land has been maintained by the local government for as long as anyone can remember, and says the UDC have never paid property taxes.

The UDC’s representing lawyer, Doug Jones, is a principal attorney with Nashville firm Schulman, LeRoy & Bennett, PC.

According to his bio, Jones is a past president of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society and vice president of the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Society.

He successfully represented the United Daughters of the Confederacy in litigation against Vanderbilt University, who tried to change the name of Confederate Memorial Hall. The case went to the Tennessee Supreme Court, then to the state court of appeals.

In 2016, the university agreed to pay the Tennessee Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy $1.2 million in order to drop “Confederate” from the name of the residence hall.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment on the case, suggesting the Home Page speak with city attorney Shauna Billingsley.

“We’re not in a fight or dispute,” Stuckey said of the suit. “We just want to have it answered.”

Stuckey said neither he nor Billingsley knew a timeline for a potential ruling.

About The Author

Brooke Wanser is the associate editor for the Franklin Home Page, and can be reached at brooke.wanser@homepagemediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BWanser_writes or @FranklinHomepg.

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