DeKalb officials vote to find a way to remove Confederate monument


A 30-foot-tall pillar honoring the Confederacy will be removed from downtown Decatur — if DeKalb County can find a legal way around a state law keeping it and other Georgia monuments in place.

All except one of the members of the the DeKalb Board of Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to pursue the removal of the towering monument that has stood next to the old county courthouse for 109 years. If successful, DeKalb could be one of the first communities in Georgia to uproot a monument lionizing the South’s Civil War cause.

The resolution orders the county’s lawyers to find options to relocate the obelisk, which refers to Confederate soldiers as members of a ‘“covenant keeping race who held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the Republic.”

State law prohibits Confederate monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion.” But it allows governments to take action to preserve or protect monuments. The resolution notes that the monument has been vandalized twice recently.

Some of those who have lobbied for the monument to come down say it should be shuttled to a cemetery or a museum. There, it would remain in public view but not so prominently.

“We know the importance of symbols in America. We have to recognize that this particular symbol cannot be held up” as an emblem of the community, Mawuli Davis, president of the Beacon Hill Branch of the NAACP, said during public comments to commissioners. “This symbol was erected in 1908 on the heels of the Atlanta Race Riots as a symbol to intimidate African Americans.”

A white mob killed dozens of African Americans during the 1906 riots.

But a lone supporter of the monument in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, retired high school history teacher Chris Billingsley, said it honors Confederate soldiers’ sacrifices.

“It’s about remembrance of the men who fought and died through the Civil War for DeKalb County,” Billingsley told reporters outside the DeKalb Commission meeting. “It’s not about white supremacy, and it’s not about the Ku Klux Klan.”

The resolution passed by the DeKalb Commission requires the county government to determine if it actually owns the monument, then explore how it can be moved.

The county, so far, hasn’t been able to locate any records showing it accepted the monument after it was built by the A. Evans Camp of Confederate Veterans and the Agnes Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, according to the resolution.

If the county doesn’t own the monument, the government could oust it from public property. But if a title attorney determines the monument belongs to the county, the government would have to justify how moving it complies with state law, or ask the Georgia General Assembly to change the law.

The resolution cites the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August around the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying DeKalb’s monument creates a public safety concern.

“We’re in a hostile atmosphere right now,” said Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, the sponsor of the resolution. “We’re in an atmosphere where hate groups and segregationists are being empowered. If that monument is being used to empower those groups, then I think it should be removed and placed in an appropriate location.”

Sara Patenaude, the co-founder of Hate Free Decatur, said the monument should be moved to a place where a more complete history of the Civil War can be told. Some residents say it should be surrounded by other monuments or exhibits to present a fuller account of the South’s history.

“We’re not trying to erase history, and we’re not trying to destroy a monument,” Patenaude said. “We’re trying to say that if you’re going to tell a story, you need to tell the whole story.”

The sole vote against the resolution came from Commissioner Nancy Jester, who said she’s concerned about taking down monuments connected to parts of history that society now finds objectionable.

“I would rather see monuments contextualized rather than destroyed or moved,” Jester wrote in an emailed statement. “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.”

Partial text of the Confederate monument in Decatur

“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, gentle 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.”

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Mark Niesse keeps you updated on the latest happenings in DeKalb County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what's happening in DeKalb politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Flu deaths reach 12 in Georgia as flu remains widespread
Flu deaths reach 12 in Georgia as flu remains widespread

The number of flu deaths continues to climb in Georgia as the flu outbreak remains widespread here and across the country.  Influenza activity has increased sharply in Georgia and across the United States during recent weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the second week of the year, which runs from Jan....
DeKalb commissioners add moratorium on municipalities to session goals
DeKalb commissioners add moratorium on municipalities to session goals

DeKalb commissioners will ask members of their legislative delegation to support a bill that creates a three-year moratorium on new municipalities and annexations in the county. Commissioners are also asking legislators to require that future cityhood referendums include all voters in unincorporated DeKalb, not just those living within the proposed...
Deputies: Florida man tries to order burrito from bank, gets charged with DUI
Deputies: Florida man tries to order burrito from bank, gets charged with DUI

Police in Florida arrested a 28-year-old man on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol after authorities said he attempted to order a burrito from a Bank of America after confusing it for a Taco Bell, according to multiple reports. Records from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office show authorities arrested Douglas Jon Francisco...
Cobb location of local Mexican restaurant chain fails health check
Cobb location of local Mexican restaurant chain fails health check

One of Cobb County’s multiple Cielo Blue Cantina restaurants just failed a health inspection. The Mexican restaurant at 1080 Windy Hill Road in Smyrna scored a 69 on its Friday health check, records show. Any score below a 70 is considered failing. An inspector noted uncooked onions being improperly stored beneath raw chicken, beef and fish...
Carter Center working to kill this disease
Carter Center working to kill this disease

The Carter Center and its partners reported continued progress in the global Guinea worm eradication campaign. The nonprofit targeted the parasitical disease in 21 countries of Africa and Asia in 1986 and took a leadership role to make it happen. If successful, it will be only the second disease in history, after smallpox to be eradicated. A count...
More Stories