Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail talks Confederate monuments

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Kenneth Nail (Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Protests and riots have been sweeping the nation in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 25. The city of Birmingham saw residents take it upon themselves to try to take down the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park Sunday night, May 31. Despite a large number of protestors staying in the area to pull down the statue of Charles Linn, the Confederate veteran for whom the park is named, the City called in a demolition crew to remove the monument Monday evening, June 1.

This is not the first time the debate over the removal of Confederate monuments has flared up, and it’s not the first time Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail has spoken up about it. Back in May 2017, Nail sent a letter to the City of New Orleans, which had just removed monuments there, to say Hanceville would like to have the monuments in its community, at Veterans Park.

“I did send that letter to New Orleans and ask for those monuments and I had a good bit of conversation,” said Nail. “I had four different black friends call me and say, ‘Kenneth, we know who you are. We went to school with you. Some folks are calling you racist, this, that and the other.’ To me, it’s not about that. It’s about history. I would never put anybody down. Slavery was a terrible thing.”

Nail is just as passionate about the monument in Birmingham. He spoke with The Tribune at length about his feelings on the monuments and what they represent.

“Let’s be honest, these monuments-that monument in Birmingham in Linn Park I think was 115 years old. That wasn’t put down at the Civil War. That was put down after the fact because these Confederate veterans who were sons, husbands and relatives, a lot of them never came home. They never came home. Momma, grandma, cousin or whoever didn’t have a grave to go to to pay their respects. That’s what that was all about,” he said. “They went there to pay their respects there because they had no idea where their remains was at. Probably dumped in a mass grave somewhere like one of my descendants in Vicksburg, Mississippi- dumped into a Confederate mass grave. So, that’s what all that was about.”

He continued, “Now, yes, I did send that letter back during the time because I think those monuments needed a decent place to go to and I still do. But, I have changed my, my friend Carl Jones who is a heritage guy for the Sons of the Confederate Veterans who is just a super guy, we talked about it. Matter of fact, I’ll be honest, I got a call. I got a call and there was some discussion with the Lt. Governor’s office and Carl called me and said, ‘Are you interested in that monument in Birmingham?’ And, my heart hurt really bad because to me, it is what it is. Was the Civil War a terrible time? YES! Was slavery wrong? ABSOLUTELY! But this was a tribute to men whose mommas and grandmas and people like that who were hurting. That’s what that was all about. I don’t know where that’s got lost at, but that’s what it was all about.”

Nail said he’s changed his mind about putting the monuments in a city-owned park, or any government-owned park. He thinks they should be on private property.

“I have changed my stance on that and this is why I am where I am at. Where I would be friendly to the cause of remembrance- and some of my black friends, I said, ‘You guys know me. I don’t have a problem with and I would love to have a Martin Luther King monument in our park.’ It’s different symbols mean different things to different people. You’ve been in my office; you’ve seen the war things I have. You’ve seen the Confederate flag I have on the corner of my desk. To me, does that mean hate? No, it means heritage. To me, does it mean we’re putting anybody down? No, I can’t help it because some stupid rednecks have hijacked the Confederate flag and has tried to make it out of something that it’s not. Just like the Ku Klux Klan has marched with the Christian flag. Well, do we need to ban the Christian flag? They march with it too. Well, no!

“I understand, just like yesterday I told someone on Facebook, symbols mean different things to different people. If I see you going down the road and I can’t holler at you, lots of times, I’ll give you a peace sign. What does that mean? To me, it means hey, peace, hey, how you doing! Peace to you! That’s what it means to me. To the older people who went to World War II, that means victory. To them it means victory. Probably to some gang, it probably means some gang symbol. I don’t know. 

“I have changed my stance on the monuments. I do not believe it is in the best interest to put the monuments in a city-owned park, a county-owned park or a state-owned park. Let me tell you why. My heart’s in it and I have told you how I feel. But, what’s going to happen when I’m gone? What’s the next mayor going to say? What’s the next city council going to say? What’s the next governor going to say or the next commission going to say? What’s that going to mean to them? So, for the benefits of the monuments, and for the love of the monuments and what I think they mean, I say- they are going to yank them up and move them anyway- the sad thing now, it’s not just the Confederate monuments, hell it’s all the monuments. They are desecrating them and doing this and doing that. I think those monuments should go to private property to be controlled by either the Sons of the Confederate Veterans or some other private organization for the care of them. We don’t need some mayor five,10 or 50 years from now jerking these monuments up again. They need to be put somewhere for eternity where people can appreciate them. If you don’t want to go to that private property and you don’t want to see that monument, just don’t go! If it hurts you or offends you or make you mad, just don’t go! Simple!”

“When does it stop? Are we going to go up there and pull up the monument of Nathan Bedford Forrest- and his grave is right there and we are wanting to desecrate his grave? Where does it stop? I just don’t understand it.

“My great-great grandfather is buried at Hokes Bluff, Alabama and I went over a while back and took pictures of his grave and all that. Grandpa joined the Confederate Army and he was 52 years old. Well, when he joined in 1863 or 64, I never understood. Grandpa, in the 1860s, was an old man at 52 years old. I thought, why did he join the Confederacy? Because they were old poor Irish and English men. We found out his son was killed by the Yankees in Vicksburg, Mississippi and dumped into a mass grave. When I go back to Vicksburg, I will make it a point to find that mass grave where my loved one is buried at and I think we can honor those guys.

“I think the problem in America is we have forgotten what love is and we forgot what respect is. My opinion might be a little different from yours. You had something the other day, you said something, I can’t remember what it was but I was going to ask you about it. It was kind of a little bit different than what I thought but I was going to ask you about it but I wasn’t mad at you about it. I love having conversations because you might spark something I never thought about on a topic. Love and respect will cure a lot of things.”

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