04-30 cemetery gate-01

The entrance to Tennessee Colony Cemetery. Cemetery Board members recently voted to remove the Christian theme from the gate.

Members of the Tennessee Colony Cemetery Board, in a 5-4 vote last week, ordered the gate to the Tennessee Colony Cemetery removed.

Residents of the tiny, rural town say they are furious over the decision, and speculate the gate's Christian imagery might have triggered the order to remove the gate as soon as possible.

“No one will tell us why,” Tennessee Colony resident Mary Costlow Walker told the Herald-Press Monday. “The board voted to remove it without consulting the community.”

Calls from the Herald-Press to Tennessee Colony Cemetery Board President Johnnie Titlow have not been returned. Board members Bonnie Woolverton and Joan Cox declined to comment.

The cemetery, owned by the Tennessee Colony community, just off Farm Road 321, sits roughly 15 miles northwest of Palestine. Tennessee Colony residents have exclusive use of the cemetery.

The cemetery gate, the work of resident Lorraine Satterwhite – a memorial to her daughter Nikki, who died of Leukemia two years ago – contains a metal silhouette of the Nativity in its center. Designed more than two years ago and installed last year, the gate stands at the cemetery entrance.

The cemetery board, which oversees the property, approved the gate, as well as two angel statues, also suggested by Satterwhite. During a closed vote last week, however, cemetery board members ordered them removed.

“Lorraine's husband had to go pick up the angels this morning,” Walker said. “I just don't understand it.”

Board members' silence, she said, has triggered speculation in the community.

“Just another example of trying to kill Christianity,” LaLayne Rich posted on social media. “I have known a few who said they were atheists or agnostic, but they never said they were offended.”

Vivian Eaves also took to social media to object: “I have family buried there,” she wrote. “This idiocy is either anti-Christian or vindictive; either way, it is wrong.”

Walker said the cemetery is open to all faiths, but she still does not understand the problem with the gate's Christian images.

“Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. has crosses, doesn't it?” she said. “My brother John's gravestone has a verse from First Timothy on it. Do we need to remove that, too?”

Tennessee Colony resident Jocelyn Nash said the board should have discussed the order with the community. “It is a community cemetery,” she said.

Based on social media posts at least, most residents of this town of fewer than 500 agree with Nash.

Walker's Facebook post less than a day ago was followed by more than 180 comments – all in support of keeping Satterwhite's gate.

Walker, who said she would have no problem with similar depictions of other faiths in the community cemetery, said political correctness has again run amuck.

“It's easy to claim offense,” she said. “I'm offended they're planning on taking it down. If the gate offends you, get buried somewhere else.”

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