Dear Decaturish – Confederate memorial should be movedPhoto of the inscription on the Confederate memorial in the Decatur Square, provided b Erik Voss.
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I write as the Jimmy Carter Professor of American History at Emory University, and an expert in the history of the American South. I also write as a Decatur homeowner, and a father of two children in the Decatur Public Schools.
I believe strongly that city and county officials should move the Confederate memorial that is currently located on Decatur Square.
Historical scholarship is clear that the vast majority of the Confederate monuments in the South were erected not in the immediate aftermath of the war but many decades later. This memorialization movement coincided with and reinforced a broad and diverse effort to impose and sustain racial segregation and white political domination in southern life. The Confederate monument on the Decatur Square, erected in 1908, only two years after a deadly race riot in nearby Atlanta that killed dozens of African Americans, was clearly part of this broader movement. We know that not only from the historical context, but also from the language of the Decatur monument itself, with its phrases about a “covenant keeping race” that “held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the republic.” This kind of language invokes notions of racial hierarchy that are anathema to our community today. Also, the north face of the monument puts forward an argument as to the causes of secession rooted solely in the concept of states’ rights. It makes no mention of the central role that the preservation of slavery played in southern secession. This interpretation of the Civil War has been thoroughly discredited by modern scholarship.
As a historian, I understand how this monument is an important artifact of history that should be preserved so that future generations might learn of the conflicts that have divided American citizens. However, given the diversity of Decatur today, and the values that our community holds, it is not appropriate that this monument remain in its current location.
It would be much more fitting for the city and the county to move the monument to a local cemetery where Confederate graves are located. This would preserve the monument as a historical artifact that future generations can learn from, while also allowing Decatur Square—the center of political, social, and cultural life in our town and county—to become a public space that better reflects our community’s deepest values and commitments.
Joseph Crespino, Jimmy Carter Professor
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