Group seeking to remove Decatur’s Confederate monument may have found a legal solution

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 16, 2017

After the Stand With Charlottesville candlelight vigil on August 13. 2017, in Decatur, Ga., attendees gather to discuss the controversial “Lost Cause” monument in Decatur Square.

A petition to remove Decatur’s Confederate monument has soared past 1,500 signatures, but one sticky problem has remained: state law.

Specifically, state law prohibits the removal of such monuments and the prospects for changing it in a Republican-controlled Legislature don’t seem likely. However, the state law says local governments can take  “appropriate measures for the preservation, protection, and interpretation of such monuments.”

The monument is owned by DeKalb County.

“Recent acts against confederate memorials in Piedmont Park and Durham, North Carolina give DeKalb County clear justification to use this ‘appropriate measures’ provision to relocate the Decatur confederate monument,” the organizers said.

Calls to remove the monument grow louder by the day following white supremacist violence over a similar monument in Charlottesville, Va that resulted in the deaths of three people.

The monument is located by the old DeKalb County courthouse and was constructed in 1908. It is widely seen as a symbol of the Jim Crow era south, a not-so subtle message to black residents who would question the status quo.

“Two years prior, in 1906, African-Americans were hung from lamp posts during the ‘Atlanta Race Riot,’ which was a riot consisting of white people terrorizing and brutalizing black people,” the petition says. “The statue refers to those listed on the monument as a ‘covenant keeping race’ and thus, the statue serves as a shrine to white supremacists like those we saw in Charlottesville.”

The organizers said they plan to show up at future meetings of the DeKalb County Commission and Decatur City Commission to demand action.

In a previous interview, Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said she expected people to show up at Monday’s City Commission meeting.

“I’m sure it will be discussed at our meeting on Monday night,” she said.

This Saturday there will be a community meeting at the Confederate monument on the square. According to the meeting announcement, “We will form groups and troubleshoot how we might move forward with its removal, providing healing for the entire community.”

The meeting begins at 8 p.m.

The organizers of the petition sent over the following press release on Wednesday morning:

Residents Call for Immediate Action to Remove CSA Monument from Decatur Square

Decatur, GA – As support pours in to an online petition calling to remove the Lost Cause monument from Decatur Square, organizers continue to demand immediate and decisive action be taken by DeKalb County officials to remove the symbol of white supremacy, hatred, and racism from the public space.

The original petition, begun on the back of a paper shopping bag, garnered its first signers at a candlelight vigil Sunday evening for the victims of the Charlottesville, Virginia terrorist attack. The vigil honored the life of Heather Heyer, killed as she counter-protested a white supremacist gathering. That the Decatur vigil took place in the shadow of a Confederate monument was not lost on participants. “I don’t care if there’s some monument,” vigil organizer Meymoona Freeman told the crowd, “we made this square different.” By Tuesday evening the petition had grown to over 1,300 signatures. ( sign/remove-city-of-decaturs)

The Decatur monument was erected in 1908, just two years after the Atlanta Race Riot saw the murders of dozens of black residents by white rioters. As the Southern Poverty Law Center notes ( 20160421/whose-heritage- public-symbols-confederacy), the Jim Crow era was the height of development for monuments such as this, memorializing and perpetuating a false narrative referred to by historians as the “Lost Cause,” which de-emphasizes the importance of slavery as a primary driver of the Civil War.

“Monuments are not benign markers of history,” said Sara Patenaude, historian and Ph.D. Candidate at Georgia State University. “What we choose to memorialize is representative of who we are as a people and what values we hold dear. This monument valorizes the institution of slavery and the men who fought to preserve it.” Protesters point to the inscription on the monument’s base, which refers to “these men…of a covenant keeping race who held fast to the faith,” as evidence of its racial message.

“This monument serves to white-wash the ugly history of slavery and Jim Crow. Removing it to such as place as it can be properly interpreted within its historical context is the least we can do,” Patenaude said.

As elected officials begin to respond to the calls, petition organizers noted the reluctance to act in the face of a state law which prohibits the removal of monuments to the Confederacy. In an update to the petition, organizers write:

Why should we remove the Confederate monument?
The Confederate monument opposes the values of Decatur and DeKalb citizens. We are a diverse and inclusive community, but this monument reveres white supremacy and the enslavement of African Americans. Children of color look up at this monument daily, seeing a symbol of an ideology that stripped their rights as citizens and dignity as humans. The monument was erected 42 years after the Civil War in order to celebrate the atrocities of the Jim Crow South. It has no place in our square today.

How can we remove the Confederate monument?
OCGA 50-3-1(b)(2) allows for “appropriate measures for the preservation, protection, and interpretation of such monuments.” Recent acts against Confederate memorials in Piedmont Park and Durham, North Carolina give DeKalb County clear justification to use this “appropriate measures” provision to relocate the Decatur confederate monument.

Organizers plan to demand action from the City and County Commissioners in person at their scheduled meetings next week.

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