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(VIDEO) Activist pressure against Decatur Confederate monument pays off

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(VIDEO) Activist pressure against Decatur Confederate monument pays off

On NAACP leader Miwuli Davis' suggestion, younger protesters headed the march towards the square. "I know you saved your voices for today, for right now, for this moment," he said. Photo by Duo-Wei Yang

On NAACP leader Mawuli Davis’ suggestion, younger protesters headed the march towards the Square during a recent rally. “I know you saved your voices for today, for right now, for this moment,” he said. Photo by Duo-Wei Yang

This story has been updated. 

By Gabriel Owens, contributor

Activists seeking to remove a Confederate monument on the Decatur Square scored a victory at the Sept. 18 City Commission meeting.

The Decatur City Commission tabled a $40,000 proposal that would’ve added context to a controversial monument.

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The commission did vote unanimously to adopt a resolution added by Commissioner Tony Powers, who is black, asking the commission to go on record to support removal of the monument. Currently, state law prohibits removal of these monuments and the monument is owned by DeKalb County.

The resolution asks the state Legislature to change the law in question and says the commission supports any action the DeKalb County Commission would take to remove the monument.

Powers, who had rejected a charge by the local NAACP leader Mawuli Davis that officials lacked the courage to reject the monument, also forcefully disavowed white supremacy.

“I’m against white supremacy. I’m against any form of oppression,” Powers said. “What I said from day one when I had this discussion is we will decide this together as a community.”

Mayor Patti Garrett said DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond is willing to ask the county attorney to ask the state Attorney General for clarity on the current state law.

The commission’s decision followed more than an hour of public comments from nearly 20 speakers that were unanimously against the idea of placing additional markers at the monument. Many of the people speaking urged the city to take a harder stance against the monument.

“Until you get the monument removed, we will not go away,” said local student Chenoa Tyehimba to the commission.  “[The monument] shows Decatur is not as progressive as it seems.”

Activists have demanded the monument’s removal in the wake of a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. that resulted in the deaths of three people and have held a rally and a discussion in the city’s downtown to support removing it.

“They punted to the county,” said Gerald Griggs, a local lawyer and an executive for the Georgia NAACP.  “The state law is clear; it allows for the removal [of the statue for preservation].  You just have to have the courage to act.

“We will take this to DeKalb and [Chief Executive Officer of DeKalb County] Michael Thurmond, hopefully he will have the foresight, wisdom and courage to remove this symbol of hate in DeKalb County.”

Briggs hopes that this is just the beginning, and he set his sights on a larger target – the Confederate General carvings on the side of Stone Mountain.

“The NAACP is resolved for the removal of all symbols of hate and Confederate monuments in Georgia,” he said. “Today was a small step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.”

Davis, with the NAACP, urged officials to remove the monument and said there were numerous people in the legal community willing to donate their time to defend the city and county from litigation caused by removing the monument.

“This statute has not been constitutionally tested,” Davis said. “Let’s test it. Who better to test it than the city of Decatur?”

Mawuli Davis, with the Beacon Hill Branch of the NAACP, speaks to the Decatur City Commission to urge them to remove a controversial Confederate monument on the Decatur Square. Video by Gabriel Owens

Another point of contention many of the speakers had towards the proposal, besides ultimately allowing the monument to stand, was the cost as well as outsourcing the creation of “context plaques” to a Canadian-owned business, as opposed to local groups.

Suggestions for placement of the statue after it is removed from the Square include several calls for it to be moved to a museum and put into context, citing its creation in 1908 as a symbol of white racial superiority during the Jim Crow era.  Another suggestion asked that it be placed in the Decatur cemetery.

Hate Free Decatur, the group leading the fight to remove the monument, praised the commission’s decision following the meeting.

“At the September 18 Decatur City Commission meeting, Commissioner Tony Powers introduced a resolution acknowledging that the placement of the white supremacist Confederate monument on Decatur Square hinders the City’s quest for inclusivity, equity, and justice for all,” the group said in a statement. “In addition to urging the Georgia legislature to change OCGA 50-3-1 and give local decision-making powers back to communities, the resolution supported action by DeKalb County to move the monument off of the Square. The resolution passed unanimously. Hate Free Decatur thanks Commissioner Powers and the Decatur City Commission for finally taking a public stance against this symbol of white supremacy. Now it is time for the DeKalb County Commission to take action and remove this blight from the face of our community.”

The decision now falls to the county. Hate Free Decatur plans to pack the upcoming Sept. 26 County Commission meeting to show support for removing the monument.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained misspellings of names. The names have been updated to include the correct spelling. 

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