Black Man To Be Retried After All-White Jury Used Room With Confederate Decor

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A Black man convicted of aggravated assault by an all-white jury that deliberated in a room featuring Confederate symbols and memorabilia will get a new trial, a Tennessee appeals court has ruled.

Tim Gilbert, 55, was sentenced to six years in prison following his 2020 trial stemming from a domestic dispute. He has argued that the racist decor inside the Giles County Courthouse in Pulaski violated his constitutional right to a fair trial with an impartial jury, due process and equal protection under the law, according to court documents.

The appeals court unanimously ruled on Friday that prosecutors failed to prove that the room, which is maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, or UDC, was not prejudicial to Gilbert.

“U.D.C. Room” is reportedly painted on the door to the room, and there is a Confederate flag on the door’s window. There is also a framed Confederate battle flag on the wall facing the entrance, as well as portraits of Confederate officials, including Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. The portrait is labeled “President Jefferson Davis,” according to the court documents.

The Giles County Courthouse in Pulaski, Tennessee, has a room that's maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. (Photo: Jordan McAlister via Getty Images)
The Giles County Courthouse in Pulaski, Tennessee, has a room that's maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. (Photo: Jordan McAlister via Getty Images)

Given the political ideals of the Confederacy that were documented at the time of its founding, Confederate symbols are racist, Judge James Curwood Witt Jr. wrote in the court opinion. Witt’s opinion reversed a 2020 lower court ruling that denied Gilbert’s request for a new trial.

Witt cited the Confederacy’s various Articles of Secession and its stated belief that Confederate states have the right to hold Black people in chattel slavery.

“These documents not only defended slavery, but endorsed it fully using dehumanizing and racist language,” Witt said. “These documents establish that slavery and the subjugation of black people are inextricably intertwined with the Confederacy and the symbols thereof. Such ideals, however, are antithetical to the American system of jurisprudence and cannot be tolerated.”

The court further scrutinized how the room’s decoration came to be. A framed letter on the wall states that the room has been a “UDC room” since the 1930s and that the door’s UDC emblem and inscription were added in 2005 at the UDC’s expense. The county’s grand jury foreman also testified that the room has remained in the same condition since he first undertook that duty 14 years ago, according to the court documents.

“When a government creates or permits the creation of a permanent display by a private organization, it has engaged in government speech,” Witt said of the matter.

A website for the United Daughters of the Confederacy states that the organization “totally denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy” and that it is “saddened that some people find anything connected with the Confederacy to be offensive.”

“Our Confederate ancestors were and are Americans. We as an Organization do not sit in judgment of them nor do we impose the standards of the 19th century on Americans of the 21st century,” the group’s website states.

A representative with the organization and the courthouse did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on Monday.

The appeals court also ruled that the trial court made a mistake of allowing a challenged witness statement to be used in Gilbert’s trial over whether he fired a gun at a family member’s moving vehicle during a 2018 dispute.

The court’s ruling follows the removal of numerous Confederate symbols across the U.S., including after the 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

This past summer, a bust of a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader was removed from Tennessee’s Capitol after decades of protests and demonstrations over its installation in 1978.

Elsewhere in the country, similar monuments have been coming down, including in the U.S. Capitol, where the House of Representatives voted in June to remove monuments erected for key defenders of slavery and white supremacy.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.


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