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DeKalb County Commission approves call to remove Decatur’s Confederate monument

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DeKalb County Commission approves call to remove Decatur’s Confederate monument

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

This story has been updated. 

With little fanfare the DeKalb County Commission on Tuesday voted to approve a resolution calling for the removal of a Confederate monument on the Decatur Square.

Commissioner Nancy Jester was the only “no” vote. After meeting she told Decaturish, “I voted no for a variety of reasons.”

“I am concerned about going down the slippery slope of removing and changing monuments, names, and places if they are judged as offensive or connected with a part of history we reject as odious,” she said. “As Burke would say, ‘Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.’ I would rather see monuments contextualized rather than destroyed or moved. More speech and information is better than less. As the Old Courthouse is the home to the DeKalb History Center, it seems fitting and appropriate to keep this relic and others that give us a window into our past, including painful times, at that location. Rather than spend money to tear down this monument, I would rather invest in expanding the opportunities to provide a more all-inclusive account of our Southern history.”

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The resolution, introduced by DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, calls for the monument’s removal and also directs the county’s attorney to find out who actually owns it. The monument is located in front of the old courthouse in the Decatur Square. The city of Decatur maintains the county owns it. County officials have been unable to find any commission minutes that show the county formally accepted the monument.

The County Commission’s action follows a similar resolution approved unanimously by the Decatur City Commission last month. State law currently prohibits the removal of these monuments, but the city’s Legislative delegation wants to change the law to allow local communities to make those decisions. State Sen. Elena Parent announced a press conference to discuss the legislation that will be held on Nov. 7. It will start at 2 p.m. and will be held at the Senate Press Conference Room, Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Room 203 Atlanta, GA 30334.

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. These groups held a rally and a discussion in the city’s downtown to support removing it. The monument has also been defaced three times since the debate began.

Hate Free Decatur has been working with the NAACP’s Beacon Hill branch to remove the monument. Both groups spoke at the meeting.

Mawuli Davis, with the Beacon Hill branch of the NAACP, asked the commission to approve the resolution.

“We know the importance of symbols. We know the importance of symbols in America,” he said. “We have to recognize that this particular symbol cannot be held up, should not be held up. Our children shouldn’t have to be subjected to it any further.”

Chris Billingsley, a retired Decatur High teacher, spoke against the resolution before the vote.

“Those who want to destroy the memorial have complained about the inscription,” Billingsley said. “The words inscribed in the memorial are as clear today as they were in 1908, unless you are blinded by hate and partisan politics.”

The inscriptions are:

(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 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.

Editor’s note: This report was compiled using the live video feed of the DeKalb County Commission meeting. 

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