Rally to remove Confederate monument in Decatur greeted by counter-protesters
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This story has been updated.
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By Mariann Martin, contributor
A rally at the Decatur square calling for the removal of the Confederate monument took an unexpected twist when a small group opposing the removal arrived first and set up in front of the monument with flags and signs.
The coalition organizing the rally was not daunted by the unexpected opposition. They also rallied in front of the monument, using a huge banner saying “Unity and solidarity, not racism and bigotry” to hide the pro-monument group.
About 50 to 75 people gathered to support the removal of the monument and six people supported keeping the monument. The rally lasted an hour, with community members and students taking the mic to call for the removal of the monument, and stopping occasionally to chant “Off the square. Off the square.”
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Sporadically, the counter-protesters tried to talk over the speakers, but were not successful in drowning out the rally.
Widely seen as a symbol of the Jim Crow era South, the DeKalb monument was erected in 1908.
The counter-protestors do not want to tell the full story of the monument being built, Mawuli Davis, President of the Beacon Hill NAACP Organizing Committee, told the group.
“They talk about the money being raised to erect this and about the people who participated,” Davis said. “Those were without African American participation. We were excluded. And it’s important for us to get that because they will try to take it out of context. We were excluded. We didn’t have a voice … Our ancestors were never consulted. If they would have been consulted, they would never been enslaved. If they were consulted, they would they would not have had to fight for their freedom, their own liberation. They stand behind a myth. We know the myth will be torn down because we stand on the right side of history.”
One of the counter-protestors, Billy Bearden, said the monument was placed to honor Confederate soldiers who died in battle. Wearing a gray Confederate uniform and holding a pre-1956 Georgia flag, Bearden insisted that is the only thing the monument represents.
“No hate, no racism,” he said. When asked if he thinks a community should be able to decide what stands in their public spaces, Bearden called it a “loaded question,” saying descendants of the Confederate dead support keeping the monument.
Georgia law prohibits removing these monuments, but the DeKalb County attorney believes the law allows for the monument to be moved as long as it isn’t obscured. A bill to change the law was not successful in Georgia’s legislature this spring.
Saturday’s rally was in response to two county commissioners calling for the monument to be moved to another part of the square with language to contextualize it. In a news release, DeKalb Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader say it could be placed in “a less prominent place” on the square. That proposal will be considered during a commission meeting on Tuesday.
“Look around this square. There is no less prominent place,” said Sara Patenaude, historian and co-founder of Hate Free Decatur.
Taxpayer money would still be spent to maintain the monument, and community members want it off the square, Patenaude added.
The movement to remove the monument began last August after Heather Heyer was killed at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. In the last year, a petition to remove the monument gathered about 3,000 signatures. Activists held a march in September 2017 and a community panel in October 2017. The Decatur City Commission has also passed a resolution calling for its removal.
On Saturday, Paul McLennan with Hate Free Decatur listed the places he has contacted to see if they will take the monument. The list includes the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, Red Top Mountain State Park, the city of Stone Mountain, the Confederate Cemetery in Stone Mountain, Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta History Center, Decatur Cemetery, DeKalb History Cemetery and the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Since the coalition has been unsuccessful in finding a home for the memorial, they support Commissioner Mereda Davis-Johnson’s call for the creation of a task force to identify alternative county-owned locations for the monument.
No matter what happens, everyone attending the rally vowed to keep fighting until the monument is removed.
“We will not stop the fight and we will continue fighting until it is removed,” said Mario Bembry Jr. a student at Decatur High School. “And when it is gone, I might do a back flip where it was.”
Davis added, “Nowhere else do you see see monuments erected to traitors. Nowhere else do you monument erected to those who would try to enslave others. Nowhere else do you see this kind of racist, bigoted, white supremacist supported on public property. Nowhere else. We have to take a stance.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about the day of the event. This story has been updated with the correct information.
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