The Week: Debate grows over what to do with Rebel symbols


Supporters and critics fired off opinions like cannonades this past week over how to treat monuments to the Confederacy and the people who fought for it.

What to do with the monuments — symbols of suppression to some, icons of heritage to others — fell under the spotlight following the violent clashes earlier this month in Charlottesville, Va., that were sparked by white supremacists.

Some this week continued to call for removal of the monuments. Others, instead, pushed for adding context to what already exists, saying it would tell a more accurate story.

The first shot fired during the week, however, came from somebody who seemed to question the value of doing anything, warning that it could yield unintended consequences.

“I remind people what it costs us to take down the Confederate flag,” former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, during a lengthy interview on “Meet the Press,” told Chuck Todd. “It cost us an election and that election cost us $14.9 billion and 70,000 health care jobs that we would have had in Georgia if we had not gotten to foolin’ with that flag. It costs us the Perimeter.

“We had an outer perimeter where we have been collecting land and designing it and it was ready for construction. And the first thing the next governor did was sell all that land to his friends, and every time any Atlantans are caught in traffic or anyone tries to come through there, they need to remember that the flag put them there.”

More opinions followed.

State Rep. Vernon Jones is seeking creation of a new commission to conduct a “bipartisan, systematic and transparent study” of the state’s historic monuments.

Jones said the panel would hold statewide hearings and then make recommendations about monument placement and the possibility of adding new statues.

Such a commission would find steady work. Georgia trails only Virginia in the number of Confederate symbols.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal-leaning nonprofit advocacy group, compiled a list of such symbols — statues, schools, counties, parks, courthouses and more — in the U.S. While its analysis found Georgia had 173 symbols, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found the report had missed a few, giving the state 194.

In search of “the full story”:Former Gov. Roy Barnes, who led the fight to try to remove the Confederate battle emblem from Georgia’s flag, advised Southerners to take caution about calls to tear down other Rebel symbols.

Barnes, in a post on his law firm’s website, wrote that those who try to cast the Confederacy as heroic and slavery as an afterthought of the Civil War “are spreading a myth which further distorts the true course of history.”

But the ex-governor took issue with the call from state Rep. Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor, to remove the images of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Rebel Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the face of Stone Mountain.

“The memorials should not all be destroyed or taken down, but the full story should be told. They should be a constant reminder that politicians appealing to passion laced with race can lead to disaster and scar a nation for generations,” wrote Barnes, who has endorsed Abrams’ Democratic rival, state Rep. Stacey Evans. “In the current state of politics, no lesson could be needed more.”

Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue also made a case for added context.

During a Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce meeting, WXIA reported, Perdue said, “It can’t be offensive and we need to be sensitive to the emotions and concerns of everybody involved.”

A family weighs in: One argument for removal of monuments came from a source with Rebel roots, the family of Georgia’s Alexander H. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy.

Two brothers who say they are the closest direct descendants to Stephens, Alexander and Brendan Stephens, sent a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal and the state Legislature saying they want to see their ancestor’s statue removed from the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

“Confederate monuments need to come down,” they wrote. “Put them in museums where people will learn about the context of their creation, but remove them from public spaces so that the descendants of enslaved people no longer walk beneath them at work and on campus.”

The brothers noted in the letter that “some of our relatives may disagree” with their proposal.

Alexander H. Stephens is, perhaps, best known for delivering his famous “Cornerstone Speech,” in which he said slavery was the “natural and normal condition” of black people.

“Wait and see”: Deal said he’s leaving it up to lawmakers next year to decide how to handle the issue.

While the Republican has already ruled out changes to Stone Mountain, he said he’s going to “wait and see what the Legislature decides” on how to handle monuments, memorials and street signs.

“I think they will do a pretty in-depth look into whether or not we should continue to restrict local jurisdictions — counties and cities — in terms of what they may want to consider in their areas,” he told the AJC. “It’s an issue I’m sure is going to be before the General Assembly in January.”

Seeking a fix for tuition:State Sen. Rick Jeffares, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, is proposing that Georgia’s public college and universities lock in the per-credit cost to incoming freshmen for four years.

Jeffares, who is running against state Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer and state Rep. Geoff Duncan, also is calling for reducing the costs for online classes and allowing the transfer of core curriculum credits between the state’s public colleges and universities.

The state’s Board of Regents voted in April to raise tuition by 2 percent at 28 state colleges and universities.

Kaepernick has a Hammer: Baseball Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron has come to the defense of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans.

Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the 49ers in the spring, remains unsigned. Aaron, in a YouTube video posted by Roland Martin, said Kaepernick is “getting a raw deal.”

“I don’t think anybody can do the things he could do,” said the Atlanta Brave great known as “The Hammer.” “So you know, I just wish somebody would open up and give him a chance to do his thing …

“I’d love to see some other players stand up. I would love that. I think it would give him some incentive. I think it would help him.

“I think this decision is coming from the owners. I don’t think it’s coming from the general manager.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Civil rights leader Joseph Lowery endorsed state Rep. Stacey Abrams in her campaign against state Rep. Stacey Evans for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018. U.S. Rep. David Scott also endorsed Abrams, making him the third of four House Democrats from Georgia to back the Atlanta legislator. Scott’s support is different because he’s probably the most conservative of the quartet.

— $1,500 could get you in a retreat/fundraiser for Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue this fall. Politico.com offered details of the affair, which will be held Oct. 27 and 28 at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee resort in Greensboro. If you want to bring your spouse and a couple of kids, the price climbs to $3,500, or leave the kids at home and pay a mere $2,700.


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