Dear Decaturish – Confederate ‘lost cause’ monument in Decatur should be removedThe monument in downtown Decatur. Photo provided to Decaturish
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I have lived in Decatur for six years and in the Atlanta area for more than two decades, but a couple of weeks ago, I was unpleasantly surprised to discover an obelisk-form monument to the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy planted in back of the old Dekalb County Courthouse in downtown Decatur (and within a minute’s walk of the new courthouse).
The monument, erected in 1908, bears the dates “1861–1865”, the initials of the Confederate States of America — “C.S.A.” — and inscriptions on each face of the base, which read:
(South Face): Erected by the men and women and children of Dekalb County, to the memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, of whose virtues in peace and in war we are witnesses, to the end that justice may be done and that the truth perish not.
(West Face): After forty two years another generation bears witness to the future that these men were of a covenant keeping race [emphasis supplied] who held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the Republic. Modest in prosperity, gentile in peace, brave in battle, and undespairing in defeat, they knew no law of life but loyalty and truth and civic faith, and to these virtues they consecrated their strength.
(North Face): These men held that the states made the union, that the Constitution is the evidence of the covenant, that the people of the State are subject to no power except as they have agreed, that free convention binds the parties to it, that there is sanctity in oaths and obligations in contracts, and in defense of these principles they mutually pledged their live, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
(East Face) How well they kept the faith is faintly written in the records of the armies and the history of the times. We who knew them testify that as their courage was without a precedent their fortitude has been without a parallel. May their prosperity be worthy.
There are no other markers or aids by the monument explaining the context in which it was erected: for example, that it was erected, as the New York Times editorial board recently put it, “during the height of Jim Crow rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when black Southerners were nonpersons, with no say in how such public spaces were used.”
I believe this monument has no place in our community and should be removed.
The Dekalb County courthouse “Lost Cause” monument was erected at a time when Jim Crow apartheid in Georgia was ruthlessly and violently enforced. Lynchings were routine in Georgia, occurring at a rate of at least once a month. Two years prior, in 1906, dozens of African-Americans were assaulted and murdered during the notorious “Atlanta Race Riot,” which was a riot consisting of white people terrorizing and brutalizing black people.
The Atlanta History Center has aptly described such monuments as signposts legitimizing white supremacy:
These monuments are the products of an era defined by Jim Crow, which aﬃrmed a white supremacist worldview through veneration of the Lost Cause myth. As physical reflections of that mythology, monuments of this period helped to create a stronger sense of Confederate identity than had ever existed during the Civil War, all the while ignoring slavery as the war’s main cause. Over time, many came to view Confederate monuments as noble gestures, while others came to see the same monuments as painful reminders of American reestablishment of white supremacy after both northern and southern whites chose national reconciliation over racial equality in the 1870s.
Recently, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, in a historic speech defending the removal of four major Confederate “Lost Cause” monuments in his city, oﬀered wisdom we in Decatur/Dekalb County — a purportedly progressive and cosmopolitan urban enclave – ought to heed:
They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.
After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.
Today, only two years after a white supremacist massacred African-American churchgoers and their minister in Charleston, avowed “white nationalists” are resurgent voices in mainstream media and even roam the White House, their hands on the levers of power. Indiﬀerence is no longer acceptable. As Mayor Landrieu recently stated, in response to those who suggested he leave the monuments alone and attend to his city’s high murder rate: “[Consider] the possibility that the monuments were murder. That they represent an institutional indiﬀerence that has existed for a long time that actually strangles people’s lives.”
In 2017, the Dekalb County “Lost Cause” monument cannot be allowed to stand with its message of murderous white supremacy unchallenged. At the very least, additional signage contextualizing the monument is warranted. It would also be more than appropriate to add additional monuments to the suﬀering of the enslaved, the lynched, and otherwise uplifting anti-racist heroes. I would welcome a process by which the community can decide on the right approach through open debate.