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(UPDATE) Rally planned to demand removal of Confederate monument from the Decatur Square

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(UPDATE) Rally planned to demand removal of Confederate monument from the Decatur Square

After the Stand With Charlottesville candlelight vigil on August 13. 2017, in Decatur, Ga., attendees gather to discuss the controversial "Lost Cause" monument in Decatur Square.
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After the Stand With Charlottesville candlelight vigil on August 13. 2017, in Decatur, Ga., attendees gather to discuss the controversial “Lost Cause” monument in Decatur Square.

It has been almost a year since activists began demanding removal of a Confederate monument from the Decatur Square, but the monument still stands.

Community groups are planning to rally on Saturday, May 5, to demand that the county take action to remove the monument.

“On Saturday, May 5, at 3 p.m., a coalition of community groups will reconvene on Decatur Square to demand removal of the DeKalb County confederate monument from the Decatur Square,” the organizers said in a press release. “The DeKalb County commission, which owns the monument, voted to remove this symbol of white supremacy on January 23 but has not yet identified a new location for the monument.”

State law currently prohibits the removal of these monuments, but the county’s attorney believes it can be moved as long as it isn’t obscured. The county has been soliciting proposals to relocate the monument, but there hasn’t been an overwhelming response from people interested in taking it off the county’s hands. The monument is located by the old DeKalb County courthouse and was constructed in 1908. It is widely seen as a symbol of the Jim Crow era South.

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Activists demanded the monument’s removal after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. held in August resulted in the deaths of three people.

Demetrius McCoy, chief of staff for Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, said, “The County has received a few proposals, however, none of the proposals were amenable in such a way for  the County to pursue. However, there is one pending proposal that the county is looking into.”

He did not have any additional details about the proposal, but said the county is not considering moving the monument into storage until someone offers to relocate it.

In a press release sent Friday afternoon, Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader said they support moving a monument to another side of the square and contextualizing it.

“In an effort to tell a more complete and accurate history, DeKalb Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader propose to move the Confederate Monument to a less prominent place and to provide a historical explanation that provides context about the monument,” the press release says. “In addition they also recommend that DeKalb install two new monuments: one would acknowledge the era of racial terror lynchings and the other would reflect the hopes of DeKalb citizens today toward race.”

The organizers of Saturday’s rally say the county is planning to move the monument to a different part of the square. They said the County Commission will consider the proposal at its May 8 meeting.

“The coalition supports Commissioner Mereda Davis-Johnson’s call for the creation of a task force to identify alternative county-owned locations for the monument,” the group said. “The coalition and community reject any plans to keep the monument on any portion of the Decatur Square.”

Here is the full press release about Saturday’s event:

Decatur Community Groups to Hold Rally on Square, Saturday, May 5

Decatur, GA: On Saturday, May 5, at 3pm, a coalition of community groups will reconvene on Decatur Square to demand removal of the DeKalb County confederate monument from the Decatur Square. The DeKalb County commission, which owns the monument, voted to remove this symbol of white supremacy on January 23 but has not yet identified a new location for the monument. According to Mawuli Davis, President of the Beacon Hill NAACP Organizing Committee, “The refusal of other locations to take on this monument shows how successful educational outreach has been in spreading the true story of this white supremacist monument.”

Coalition members have learned that the DeKalb County Commission will consider a proposal on Tuesday, May 8 to move the monument to another part of the square. Says Sara Patenaude, historian and co-founder of Hate Free Decatur, “the location of the monument on the courthouse square is just as much an expression of white supremacy as the words engraved on it.” Decatur residents will gather on Saturday to protest this proposal.

The work to relocate the DeKalb confederate monument began last August, after the murder of Heather Heyer by white supremacists protesting the removal of a confederate monument in Charlottesville, VA. DeKalb activists gathered nearly 3,000 signatures calling for the removal of the Decatur monument, held a well-attended march in September 2017, and convened a community history panel in October 2017. The Decatur City Commission, which maintains the square where the monument is located, has also passed a resolution calling for its removal.

The DeKalb monument was erected in 1908, the same year Georgia passed a constitutional amendment denying black men the right to vote, and just two years after the white supremacist Atlanta race riots. A state law passed in 2001 updated the Georgia state flag from using the confederate battle flag to the current confederate “stars and bars” layout. This same law prevents the destruction of confederate memorials but allows for their relocation.

The coalition supports Commissioner Mereda Davis-Johnson’s call for the creation of a task force to identify alternative county-owned locations for the monument. The coalition and community reject any plans to keep the monument on any portion of the Decatur Square.

Here is the full press release from commissioners Rader and Gannon:

Two Commissioners Propose Moving Confederate Monument; Want Historical Update

In an effort to tell a more complete and accurate history, DeKalb Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader propose to move the Confederate Monument to a less prominent place and to provide a historical explanation that provides context about the monument. In addition they also recommend that DeKalb install two new monuments: one would acknowledge the era of racial terror lynchings and the other would reflect the hopes of DeKalb citizens today toward race.

The Confederate Monument was placed on the County Courthouse Square directly in front of the Courthouse doors in 1908. Gannon and Rader propose to lower the significance of the monument by moving it to a remote corner of the Courthouse Square. They also propose to add a statement written by local U.S. history professors that provides background information about the historical context of the monument. (Please see attached sample.)

The Confederate monument was installed at the height of the Jim Crow era when whites in the south and elsewhere insisted upon racial segregation and the subjugation of Blacks. The monument was built during a reign of terror when African-Americans were being lynched by white mobs – often for petty offenses. Over 4,000 racial lynchings took place in the United States according to the Equal Justice Initiative which has conducted extensive research and recently opened a museum on the subject in Montgomery, Alabama. Two lynchings occurred in DeKalb County. The Equal Justice Initiative is providing monuments for each county in the United Sates where a lynching took place. Gannon and Rader propose that DeKalb County claim that monument and install it near the relocated Confederate monument thereby providing a more complete historical account.

Finally, Gannon and Rader propose that a new work of art be commissioned for the blank space where the Confederate Monument is moved from. This new work of art will be a broad expression of the community that results from an examination of who we are and what we would like to become.

The old Courthouse and square is home to the DeKalb History Center. Georgia law restricts local governments from dismantling and obscuring Confederate monuments. The Board of Commissioners have determined that this monument should not be allowed to remain an unanswered assertion of white supremacy. The County has attempted to find other locations that meet the requirements of State law and has offered it to several municipal and state authorities. All have rejected it. The County has also requested the General Assembly to change State law. The Board of Commissioner will continue to seek public input and suggestions on the monument.

Sample explanation and contextualization for the Confederate monument

This is not the final language, but is illustrative of the contextualization that is proposed. It is one of several contextualization statements written by local history scholars who were tasked by the Board of Commissioner to study the history of the Confederate monument.

This monument was placed at the south entry of the DeKalb County Courthouse in 1908 to honor Confederate soldiers.  Memorials of this kind were common throughout the South at that time.  The memorialization of the Confederacy coincided with and helped reinforce a broad social and political movement that effectively banned African Americans from political life and relegated them to second class citizenship in social and cultural life.  The language of this particular memorial reflects that broader effort, in its reference to a “covenant keeping race,” and in its account of why Confederate soldiers fought, which includes no mention of slavery or the preservation of white supremacy, two issues that historical documents from the 1860s show was central to the secessionist cause.  In 2018, the memorial was removed from its prominent location on the Decatur square to this spot.  Its removal, and this contextualizing plaque, is an expression of this community’s commitment to honoring the history and achievement of all DeKalb County residents.

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