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Decatur NAACP leader: Elected officials lack courage on Confederate monument issue

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Decatur NAACP leader: Elected officials lack courage on Confederate monument issue

Reporters and activists gather for a press conference about a rally to remove a Confederate monument in the Square. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Reporters and activists gather for a press conference about an upcoming rally to remove a Confederate monument in the Square. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Mawuli Davis, with the Beacon Hill Branch of the NAACP on Wednesday said political leaders in Decatur and DeKalb County lack courage to tackle a controversy surrounding a Confederate monument in the Decatur Square.

Davis joined other NAACP leaders and Hate Free Decatur at a press conference Wednesday to discuss an upcoming march on the monument.

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When Decaturish asked the activists why leaders have appeared reluctant to confront the issue head on, Davis said they were are afraid.

“Unfortunately, I think it is a matter of will and courage,” Davis said. “One of the things we don’t talk about very often when we talk about politics anymore, when we talk about leadership is we don’t talk about courage. Courage is essential to anything that has been achieved progressive in this country or around the world and unfortunately the courage and the moral fortitude that’s necessary to make this happen hasn’t been demonstrated. No one has stepped up because they are afraid of potential backlash.”

Decatur City Commissioner Tony Powers, who is black, took issue with Davis’ assessment. Powers is serving on a committee that includes County CEO Michael Thurmond, County Commission Presiding Officer Kathie Gannon, Commissioner Jeff Rader and Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett. That committee meets on Sept. 7, but Powers said the meeting will not be open to the public. Decaturish has asked the members of the committee to provide a legal rationale for why it can be a private meeting. Meetings involving elected officials are usually open to the public unless they fall under specific exemptions in the law, like discussing real estate transactions or potential litigation. To read the state’s Open Meetings Act, click here.

Powers said the city’s immediate response to a petition to remove the monument – which has more than 2,000 signatures at this point – shows the county’s leadership is committed to dealing with the monument issue head-on. Powers also noted that his father recently passed away but he was still making the time to attend the committee’s meeting. There’s also a petition with more than 2,000 signatures asking the city and county to leave the monument where it is.

“It’s not about lacking courage,” Powers said. “[There are] people you’re trying to pin down, one, to establish who actually owns the thing. There’s some debate about that. There’s definitely a process that has to be played out. I don’t think you could say that they lack courage. Courage to me is stepping out of the box and doing this first step of public service. It takes courage to be a public servant. We are engaged in this process and we are committed to this process.”

The commissioner also said he understands that people are frustrated with the process.

“Trust me, I understand people think nothing’s happening because they don’t see any physical activity,” he said. “Just because you don’t’ see anything on the surface, doesn’t mean that there’s nothing happening.”

Commissioner Rader, another committee member, said Davis’ assessment is premature.

“I don’t think that there’s been really the opportunity to develop a consensus for action,” Rader said. “You know, you don’t want to be reactive and we want to be thoughtful about what we do with the thing, to the extent we have any authority to do so. I would not say there has been any decisions made on how to react to the Lost Cause monument. Until we can make a decision and build consensus for action, I think it’s premature to react.”

He said the committee meeting on Thursday is not public because it doesn’t involve a quorum of either the Decatur City Commission or DeKalb County Commission.

“You know, it’s just a preliminary meeting to ensure we all have a common understanding of the situation and where we are,” Rader said. “There won’t be any decisions made.”

The future of the monument has been hotly debated since a recent violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va that resulted in the deaths of three people. The monument is in the city of Decatur but the city says it is owned by the county. It was constructed in front of the old courthouse in 1908. Historians who have weighed in on the matter in letters to Decaturish agree that its context was more about the reinforcement of  black subjugation than about remembering veterans.

Sunday’s rally will begin at 6 p.m. at the Beacon Municipal Plaza, 105 Electric Ave. For more details about that event, click here.

Davis said there’s a symbolic significance to the route activists are taking to get to the monument on Sunday. Beacon Hill was Decatur’s historic black community and a target of Ku Klux Klan marches. He said KKK members would march through Beacon Hill then to the courthouse steps to hold their rally.

“We’re told to forget slavery,” Davis said. “We’re constantly, black people are told you should forget about slavery, yet we should memorialize the people who are committed to enslaving you, and memorialize the people who would fight a war to keep you enslaved.”

He added, “What we’re fighting for is the tearing down of white supremacy.”

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