Options outlined for legally removing DeKalb Confederate monument

4:59 p.m Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 Local
Behind the old courthouse in Decatur Square sits this Confederate monument. Supporters of removing a Confederate monument from Decatur along with a lone proponent of keeping it spoke during public comment at the DeKalb County Commission. The commission is expected to vote to explore removing the monument. The vote wouldn’t remove the monument immediately; rather, it would start an investigation into potential loopholes in state law allowing the county to take action. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

DeKalb County can move a monument that glorifies the Confederacy from downtown Decatur to a public cemetery or museum, but the government can’t destroy or conceal it, according to a legal opinion released Tuesday.

The legal memo outlines options for how DeKalb could get rid of the 30-foot, 109-year-old obelisk that now sits close to the old Decatur courthouse, while still complying with a Georgia law that prohibits altering Confederate monuments.

One lawmaker has an idea that her opponents promised to fight.

If an organization is willing to take it, DeKalb could be one of the first communities in Georgia to uproot a monument lionizing the South’s Civil War cause.

Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Behind the old courthouse in Decatur Square sits this Confederate monument. Supporters of removing a Confederate monument from Decatur along with a lone proponent of keeping it spoke during public comment at the DeKalb County Commission. The commission is expected to vote to explore removing the monument. The vote wouldn’t remove the monument immediately; rather, it would start an investigation into potential loopholes in state law allowing the county to take action. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

“Today in 2017, you have the opportunity to correct an injustice that has been allowed to stand for more than 100 years,” Sara Patenaude, co-founder of Hate Free Decatur, told commissioners. “Real history matters. The lives of those that were lost to slavery matter.”

Marchers have protested the monument and sought its removal since this summer.

Citing the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that occurred in August as officials debated removing a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee there, the DeKalb Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in October opposing the monument and seeking options for how it could be disposed. The resolution said the monument creates a public safety concern.

DeKalb Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, who sponsored the resolution, said Tuesday the legal opinion clarifies that the county government owns the monument and outlines potential ways to move it.

“It’s being used for hatred and for division,” she said. “It should come off of public land. If any group or organization wants to place it for historical purposes, let’s talk about it and see where it can be located.”

The monument, built by the A. Evans Camp of Confederate Veterans and the Agnes Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1908, contains an inscription praising soldiers of the Confederacy in part because they “were of a covenant keeping race.”

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 legal opinion from County Attorney O.V. Brantley, dated Nov. 29, says state law allows relocating the monument to another visible site or placing it in historical context, alongside other exhibits. The monument could also be transferred to a third party for it to be relocated and remain on display.

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.”

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