DeKalb CEO says new monuments on the way after Confederate monument in Square dismantledA sledgehammer is used to separate sections of the Confederate monument on the Decatur Square for removal on June 19. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decatur, GA — DeKalb County on June 18 dismantled and removed a Confederate monument in the Decatur Square.
Workers started with the top of the monument, removing it by midnight and then carved up the base into sections so it could be hauled away. The message on the base of the monument spoke of “a covenant keeping race who held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the Republic” and said the monument was “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.”
The monument purported to commemorate history, but for many people, it was an artifact of hatred and white supremacy.
The monument was 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, a not-so subtle message to Black residents who would question the status quo. Activists have been calling for its removal for nearly three years.
Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger recently ordered the removal of the Confederate monument in the Square by June 26, declaring it a public nuisance after years of the monument being defaced by protesters.
On Friday morning, June 19, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said that the county will create more historical markers that will tell a more complete story of the county’s history.
“In July of 2019, the DeKalb County government commissioned the Georgia Historical Society to do a survey of all historical markers In DeKalb County,” Thurmond said. “There are 81 historical markers … all but eight deal with the Civil War or World War II. We will not take down the remaining 80 markers. We will add 20 additional markers that will create a more inclusive history. History is here for us to learn so we don’t commit the mistakes of the past. We add by not just subtracting. We add by creating a history that recognizes the contributions of people of color.”
Thurmond cautioned that the new markers may not please everyone.
“It won’t always be pretty,” he said. “We won’t always like what we read. But the important thing is it will be based on facts and on the truth.”
Thurmond also pledged to fight any legal challenges to the county’s decision to remove the monument.
The statue may be gone, he said, but other problems remain, including the COVID-19 pandemic. He cited the pandemic when someone asked when the county would remove a cannon from the Square marking the “Indian War” of 1836. It was used in the 1836 Creek War, which resulted in the forced relocation of native people along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma where most of the Creek nation now resides.
Thurmond says he has other priorities at the moment.
“I’m all for it, but right now my No. 1 priority is keeping 750,000 people alive,” he said. “I’m being honest with you. It’s taken up the lion’s share of my time.”
Thurmond said the removal of the monument is only one step in erasing racism from public life.
“The statue is gone, but racism still remains,” he said. “The statue is gone, which tells us we can make a difference. If students at Decatur High can envision a time and a place without a statue, we can envision a time and a place where we don’t turn on each other and [instead] turn to each other.”
After the press conference, Decatur city officials discussed how they could commemorate the removal of the monument.
“It has a very impactful significance and I think it is something that we’re celebrating today and I think we need to celebrate this memory, as well as the memory of June 19, of Juneteenth, every year,” Mayor Patti Garrett said.
Commissioner Lesa Mayer said she is “open to any and all ideas” on how to commemorate the community’s work to remove the monument.
“This is something that Black people have really been working towards for many years, so when we do commemorate it, it needs to be meaningful,” she said.
Alex Brown contributed to this story. Here are videos from the Decaturish Instagram account showing the monument’s removal.
Here are additional photos that were taken during the monument’s removal on June 18 and June 19:
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