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Dear Decaturish – Moving Confederate memorial won’t address injustice

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Dear Decaturish – Moving Confederate memorial won’t address injustice

An inscription on the Confederate monument in Decatur. Photo by Erik Voss
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An inscription on the Confederate monument in Decatur. Photo by Erik Voss

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Dear Decaturish,

The Confederate memorials were wrong to install and are offensive. (I actually raised the issue during my 1999 campaign for city commissioner, the first of several campaigns I undertook where the voters urged me to concentrate on my private practice.)

If removing them made our recently enacted voting restrictions any less discriminatory, if removing them raised the discriminatory low pay of women or people of color, if removing them made health care even the slightest bit more available to children whose families struggle to make ends meet, if removing them made our roads safer or our public transportation more affordable and available, if removing them made our political districts drawn without aim for partisan advantage, or if removing them did anything to improve the lives and lots of the families who are in need today, then I would be all for it.

Removing the memorial does none of these, however. Instead of spending a dime on moving the memorial, I would rather see any public dollar devoted to these other pressing needs than used to satisfy the itch that I share with everyone to get to get rid of it (or to place next to it a statue giving “equal time” — such as showing a child being ripped from his mother’s arms as the child is sold to another slave owner or a man being hung because he allegedly looked inappropriately at a white woman).

Instead, I propose that we devote our precious public resources to the more important needs of our community. We can still turn the obnoxious obelisk into a teaching moment, however. In particular, I proposed that a plaque be placed in front of the memorial. So that public money is not used on the plaque, I will pay for the cost of installation. (Anyone else is welcome to share that cost with me.) The words on the plaque could probably be better written by another, but I proposed that it say something like the following (noting that this is on county property and requires the county commission’s approval):

This monument was erected on (insert date) in tribute to men and women from DeKalb County who fought on behalf of the confederacy in the Civil War and in support of the cause for which they fought. In many countries and cultures across the world, including many places in this country, tributes such as this one are destroyed or removed as time and progress lead those of us living today to find the cause for which so many sacrificed so much to be unsupportable and abhorrent. And we, the DeKalb County Commission and the DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer, do formally and fully find the cause to be unsupportable and abhorrent. However, we choose to leave this monument standing for two reasons.

First, it is important for citizens to be informed about our history, both the good and the bad. In this regard, DeKalb County’s history includes both support for slavery through the end of the civil war and, just as importantly and sadly, government support for racial oppression well after the last shot was fired in that war. It is important that this history not be forgotten.

Leaving this monument in place also helps all of us understand that history on a personal level. Imagine what it felt like to be a person of color standing where you are now on the day after the monument was erected, reading the inscribed words paying tribute to the cause of slavery on a monument erected on public land with public resources. How much confidence would you expect such a person to have in their government? We choose to leave this monument in the public square and not relegate it to a museum so that the public can easily re-experience the disenfranchisement so many DeKalb County citizens knew not so long ago.

Second, we hope that viewing this monument reminds all of us to consider how time will treat the stands we take. The words inscribed here shows that strongly held, even heartfelt positions of today may be judged by history to be completely contrary to the principles of justice and fairness and opportunity at the core of our country’s existence. We hope that reading the words on this monument causes each of us to leaven our own words with the humility that comes from knowing that lesson.

Our nation is on a perpetual journey towards being “a more perfect union.” We have traveled a great distance on that journey since the day that the words of this monument were deemed appropriate to inscribe in the public square. We have every confidence that future generations will carry us even farther and faster towards our goal, and we hope that the lessons of this monument aid in that work.

-DeKalb County Commission and DeKalb County CEO

I completely understand those who see no alternative to removing the memorial. I am, by no means, saying they are wrong. My approach is just, for me, more strategic and, I hope, maybe even more powerful in the lesson the plaque can teach our children.

-Tom Stubbs

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