“It’s not about hate.” Hanceville mayor talks Confederate monuments and potential costs


Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail wants New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. / W.C. Mann

HANCEVILLE – White supremacist Dylann Roof’s 2015 murder of nine members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the subsequent publication of photos of Roof posing with Confederate flags, touched off another in a series of national debates on the display of Confederate symbols.  Possibly the most visible portion of that debate was the December 2015 vote of the New Orleans City Council to remove from public display three statues of Confederate leaders (Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Pierre Beauregard) and a monument marking the site of the Reconstruction era Battle of Liberty Place.  After legal wrangling and maneuvering, all four came down earlier this year, concluding with the removal of the Lee statue in mid-May.  Debate has ensued over what should become of the monuments.

Mayor Kenneth Nail of Hanceville has an idea: send them here.

He’s serious, too.  In a letter to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Nail wrote:

“I would like to respectfully request for you and your city council to consider donating these monuments to the City of Hanceville.  We have located in our city a Veterans Memorial Park that honors all Veterans and all struggles.  We would put these monuments on display there.  They would be safely protected and enjoyed by all people who visit the park.”

According to the Associated Press, Landrieu’s office said this week it is preparing a response to Nail’s request, saying it is “working on a request for proposals from nonprofits and government agencies that will place the monuments in what New Orleans officials deem to be a more appropriate place than the high-profile spots they once occupied.”

Nail sat down with The Tribune to talk about his proposal.

“It just seemed like, to me, it’s a shame just to take them down and throw them away,” he began.  “And I get it; I understand that different symbols mean different things to different people.  But this is where my heart is: it’s not racist, it’s not hate; it’s about heritage, it’s about history.  It’s about lifting each other up.  It’s about the struggles that we all have had: white, African-American, North, South.

“I’ve been to most Civil War battlefields, because I’m a big history buff.  Slavery was terrible, a terrible time in our history.  I’m glad it’s over.  We should never put down any man regardless of their color.  But we’ve got to remember this history.

“What I’d like for people to do, when you look at a statue of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or Beauregard, don’t just think about that person.  Look at the big picture; look at the whole struggle.  Think about where the African-Americans came from.  They’re the ones that had the hardest time; let’s be honest.  We don’t want to put a thought of anything negative in anybody’s head, but I ask them to look at it with an open mind.”

On locating the monuments in Veterans Park

Nail shared, “I just thought Veterans Park is a great little place.  People go down there to walk, to reflect, to exercise; and my thing is, if we had those statues down there, it would give people a chance to go down there and reflect- reflect on the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and think about how we can do better in the future.”

On local response to the proposal

Comments on the mayor’s Facebook page, as well as general talk around town, have been largely positive and supportive of Nail’s effort.  Numerous area residents, and even people from outside Alabama, have offered to contribute money to help fund the project.

Even so, the mayor admits that he has not pleased everyone.

“Yesterday I got a call from an African-American man who said he lived at Colony,” Nail explained, “very nice man, very respectful- and he said he would just prefer that they not be brought here.  I explained to him, ‘What I’d like you to think about is to look at the big picture and think about the mistakes that all of us has made.’

“One of my good black friends came to me yesterday and said, ‘Mayor, I think what you’re trying to do is a good and noble thing.’  I put both hands on his shoulders and looked him in the eye, and said, ‘You know I’m no racist.’  He said, ‘I know that.  I know what you’re trying to do.’ 

“Now, these people that live in Birmingham or other places- honestly, I don’t care what they think.  I work for the people here in this community.  If they’re happy with it, that’s what we’re going to go for.  I could care less what they think in Atlanta, Georgia or New York.”

The potential cost of the project

Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser requested that Landrieu turn the monuments over to the State, for preservation at one of its battlefield parks or another historic site.  Landrieu refused, but invited the state government to participate in an anticipated bidding process for them.  Deputy New Orleans Mayor Ryan Berni said that bids would be considered both qualitatively- considering how the monuments would be displayed and used–and quantitatively- considering how much money particular bidders offered.  Whether or not a bidding process will actually be used has not yet been determined by the New Orleans City Council.

Nail said that such a bidding process amounted to holding the monuments hostage, and wants to assure Hanceville residents that no public funds would be expended to purchase or relocate them.

Nail emphasized, “I’m not going to burden the taxpayers of Hanceville with a million-dollar bill to buy those statues, not going to do it.  We’re too small, we can’t afford that.  There’s other things in day-to-day living in this town that we’d have to first, and that would be a priority. 

“I would love to have the statues.  I will raise the money to go get the statues and put them on a proper pedestal at Veterans Park.  One big trucking company has called me, and has offered his services.  He hauls big, heavy loads, and he said, ‘I will go to New Orleans and get those statues, and bring them back to Hanceville at no charge.  I understand what you’re trying to do.’”

The final word

“Again, for me it’s not about hate; it’s about heritage,” said the mayor.  “It’s thinking about the mistakes we made in the past, and where we can go in the future.  This race thing- we’ve still got a ways to go; we sure do.  We all can work on it.  We need to learn how to get along.  We need to learn how to live side by side with people of all races.  I think it’s a great thing that we live in harmony with each other, that we respect each other.

“The haters are going to hate; there’s nothing I can do about that.  They don’t know Kenneth Nail, they don’t know my heart, they don’t know my intent.  I don’t want to offend anybody; I promise I don’t.  But some people are just looking to be offended.  Get over it.  Life goes on.  Lift each other up, be kind, don’t disrespect anybody.”

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