At Issue: Who should decide if Confederate monuments stay or go?

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At Issue: Who should decide if Confederate monuments stay or go?

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The obelisk in Decatur Square has recently become the subject of a petition to see it removed and one to ensure it remains. Bill Banks for the AJC

The Civil War monument industry has taken a hit the last two weeks since the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va. Decades-old markers, monoliths and memorials, which had long blended into the landscape, have become targets of profound wrath.

During an Aug. 21 meeting in Decatur, one group presented a petition with 2,069 signatures asking for the removal of the obelisk in Decatur Square, while another had over 1,000 people asking that it get protected and kept right where it is.

Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett reiterated this week that “there will not be a speedy resolution” to the monument dilemma. That is partly due to a complicated and occasionally opaque state law passed in 2001. In an interview this week Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, who represents Decatur, said that this law clearly prevents a city or county (the Decatur monument is actually owned by DeKalb County) from removing the monument.

But, she added, the statute is silent on whether interpretive signage — something giving the obelisk historical and cultural context — can be erected.

“I don’t have an expressed opinion myself on the monument,” Parent said. “I think there’s a firm argument for a variety of outcomes. But I would like to change the state law so local governments have control. I don’t think people in Valdosta, for instance, are interested in the Decatur monument.”

Should the law be changed, should interpretive signage get added, or should it get smashed to smithereens and recycled to build another Decatur restaurant? Should all of Georgia weigh in or just the people who walk past it every day?

Send your responses to communitynews@ajc.com. Comments may be edited for length and/or clarity. They also may be published in print or digital formats.

LAST WEEK: ARE SYMBOLS OF CONFEDERACY HISTORICAL OR HURTFUL?

The recent death of a young woman protesting a white supremicist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia sparked debate about displaying monuments of Confederate leaders. While some were clearly erected to honor the dead, others were clearly used as symbols of hatred. And with others, it’s not so obvious. Last week the AJC asked readers for their opinion on what should be done with these symbols.

Here’s what some had to say:

I think in stead of sandblasting the historical Confederate figures from Stone Mountain, it would be a great idea to add a massive bell to ring in freedom on the top of it. That would give balance to this historical site. I understand that confederate historical statues, flags and other symbols can hurt people’s feelings. I think those statues should be removed, but not destroyed, so that they can be a reminder of a dark era in our history, but not erased. How about if a Southern History Museum be made to put in all of these symbols and statues? — Diana T

I have lived in Georgia since 1971, in and around the city of Atlanta and have traveled to most Georgia cities and other than the Stone Mountain carving I cannot name one confederate symbol or know where one is in the entire state. I would say that goes for most people in Georgia. — Bert Fontaine

Most Confederate memorials were erected not by white supremacists or haters or evildoers. They arose from the mourning and brokenness of Southern women and children who sought some small way to commemorate an entire generation of men wiped out by war. Many had not even graves to visit on quiet Sunday afternoons, for their husbands, brothers, fathers and grandfathers lay far away in unmarked burials beneath battlefields. Thus these women, many penniless, scraped together small donations to contribute toward the modest statues seen now in courthouse squares across the South. For those who tear down monuments, is anything made better afterwards? The people of New Orleans could have better spent that $1 million by repairing two of its three pumps, and prevented the recent inundation. Let us not be so flooded by our passions that we resort to mindless destruction. And be honest: you really just want to stick it to ‘em. — Amanda Warren, Buford

If one recognizes the fact that one of if not the prime reason the Civil War was fought concerned the issue of whether or not slavery would continue and be expanded, then one would recognize the intolerance that Blacks in particular and other races of good faith have toward images and symbols which celebrate those who fought for the Confederacy. The monuments should be placed in museums. Explanatory plaques are not enough. Additional explanatory monuments would be too expensive and would face insurmountable design controversies. — Tom West, Atlanta

An idea about the Confederate monuments (many of which are really not ‘confederate’ monuments): Leave them where they are, but do absolutely no active maintenance on them. Let the statues weather, and get covered with pigeon dung. Let nature ‘sand-blast’ the Stone Mountain relief. The deterioration of such monuments will be slow (hundreds of years), but steady. Perhaps also an excellent metaphor for the message of these monuments. — Robert Ensign, Atlanta

We cannot change or erase history. The person making the most sense in explaining the present debate about the monuments is Lyn Vaughn, former CNN anchor, in her guest column in the Saturday, August 19 edition of Atlanta Journal-Constitution. About the Charlottesville violence, nothing would have happened if the antifascists had not shown up, wearing masks and ready to do battle with the white supremacists. We don’t agree with this group, but they had the right to demonstrate. President Trump was and is right, both groups are to be blamed for the violence. — Alfredo Rodriguez, Canton

If they are on tax payer property move them to a museum or a privately owned place. We must retain our history good or bad. We learn from our deeds good or bad. Streets and buildings is a bit much. Lets not drive a wedge between what has been achieved so far. — Frank Wolak

Middle ground means mutual respect. The best outcome of this debate would be for each side to see things from the other perspective. One side should see how an object can be “offensive” to another person, but the other side should see that people can view their cultural symbols as love, not hate. Regardless of how politicians have used the Confederate Battle Flag to manipulate power, thousands of Southerners still see it as the flag of the South, representing the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. It isn’t a battle flag to them, nor is it the Confederacy; it is their regional identity. To them it means magnolias, sweet tea and grits, and yes, it is inclusive. As for the Stone Mountain carving, keep it but add images of slaves, which would be a more accurate portrayal of the Confederacy – a time of great suffering, not celebration. — Larry Hand, Woodstock

Confederate Avenue in Atlanta is named that because that’s where the old Confederate Soldiers’ Home once stood. As best my research can determine, the name was strictly functional, as a means of directing people to that facility. No deeper meaning implied. This is why the history of each monument needs to be researched. What was the intent of building the monument by those collecting money for it’s construction? I trust my local governing bodies to take appropriate actions after doing the research. — Gene Gaillard, Covington

My white Southern friends care about heritage and say they are not racists in wanting to keep the statues of Confederate leaders/soldiers standing. O.K., let’s put that to a test. Let’s become historians: All statues originally erected for the purpose of intimidating African Americans, of reminding them of slavery or that they should continue to be second-class citizens, are not functioning to give proponents of white Southern heritage what (they say) they want. Since these statues’ purpose is not about promoting heritage, those are the ones we dismantle and get them out of public places. I ask my Black friends if they could live with allowing any statues and/or honor unambiguously erected for purposes of historical commemoration (like at Gettysburg) to stand. That gives our white Southern friends what they say they want. Since the Charlotttesville Lee statue was erected at the time and apparently in the spirit of the birth of the modern Klan, it should go — probably along with Stone Mountain carvings too. — Mark Ellingsen, Smyrna

Monuments to history are one thing but here’re some clues that a monument has the wrong intent. It mentions “the Lost Cause” or Yankee “invaders,” etc. There’s a clear difference between noting history and making a political statement. Besides some obvious statues, Atlanta’s surrounded by dozens of these type battlefield markers that do exactly that. — Darryl Weaver, Atlanta

Right now is the best time in decades for all of us to finally make it clear what this country is about. If it is about being hateful, racist and bigots, if that is truly what we are, then let’s embrace it. And I guarantee you I will quickly flee this place just as many fled Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s. But if we truly are loving, forgiving, and non-racist, and anti-bigotry, then let’s declare it once and for all. We need to decide now. We need to take sides. There is and cannot be any middle ground! As for Confederate monuments and symbols, let’s not destroy them. But let’s not celebrate them either. Put them in museums where they can still be viewed, but in the proper context that they were a part of our history and that they are no longer relevant to our society today. The Stone Mountain carving: Do not destroy it! Let’s remove the three generals and put them in museums. To fill in the gaping holes left over, let’s place new carvings of more appropriate figures. It will cost big bucks to do all that, but with funding mechanisms such as GoFund Me, I’d bet we would have people from all over the world willing to donate! And for street names, let’s stop naming them after people. Let’s go back to naming them after birds and plants and maybe even animals. — Gary Flesher, Atlanta

Please leave the Confederate monuments alone. They have harmed no one for the years that they have been in place. If you look at those and feel that they are harming you in some way, please educate yourself on the truths of the causes of the war. Do not allow yourselves to be taken in by the lies that have been hurled your way since the end of the war. Remember the Union sent school teachers to the South to insure that their message and lies were taught to the Southern school children. My great grandfathers did not fight to keep slavery. They went to war after Lincoln started an illegal war to keep their homes and property safe. Really think about what would have led men to leave their homes to go to war. To keep and defend slavery ? I think not. — Marie Bath, Lawrenceville

The “Middle Ground” should be the “right ground.” Whomever put them up should take them down — city, county, state or federal government in an orderly process as directed by their constituency. The story should be told however as to how these symbols were created. The almost 100 year tyranny of Southern Democrats perpetuating “Jim Crow” and racist practices placed many of these as symbols of intimidation. — Brandt Ross, Atlanta

History has shown that the destruction of painful reminders of the past is a mistake. The photo of the defaced statue of Robert E. Lee reminded this reader of mutilated statues in Paris’ Latin Quarter, damage inflicted in the 1790s during the hysteria of the French Revolution. Even the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame suffered severe damage and was variously renamed Cult of Reason and Cult of the Supreme Being. The ancient Romans partially dismantled Stonehenge and carted off the stones to be used as material for other construction projects. Today we know these acts to be foolish, even criminal. And history will prove that the destruction and/or renaming of the reminders of an unfortunate period in our past is a mistake. — Joanna Patterson

Yes, all vestiges of this period in the country’s history should be removed. The fact that they were erected many years after the Civil War, during the periods of Jim Crow laws and extremism racial views testify to the reason for their placement in the first place — less to honor these individuals and more to proclaim white supremacy as the unspoken rule of the land. These persons were traitors, neither heroes nor patriots. They took arms against the United States government and should not be glorified for their treason. — Beverly Clopton

If Yankees wanted to say they were fighting to end slavery, they should have passed the 13th Amendment in 1861 instead of waiting until 1865. That’s when slavery actually became illegal. Few Americans seem to know that there were vastly more slaves imported into Central and South America and most were freed without bloodshed. Only the bloodthirsty maniac Lincoln found it necessary to murder hundreds of thousands of his citizens to do what the rest of this hemisphere did politically. The monuments must remain as a reminder of incredible loss. The dispute now is really over this loss and not slavery. If slavery had been ended less violently, there would be no need for the monuments. — R. Lamar Smith, Atlanta

I want all the monuments to stay as they are, none removed or moved to another area. The media is the reason there is so much hate within the United States. Why report all these protests? That’s what both sides want. This is not news we want to hear. These monuments are a work of art. Is there a law against destroying artists’ work? Read Lyn Vaughn’s article in the Aug. 19 AJC. She is an intelligent black lady who needs to write more articles for AJC. Why can’t we have more reporters like her. The media gives Trump such a hard time. He doesn’t have a chance. — Billy andVirginia Williams

Racism must go. It cannot be tolerated on any level. Andrew Young should know better than to say we have gone too far when Stacey Abrams says the Stone Mountain carving should be removed. The Stone Mountain carving does not represent history that we want to preserve. It represents racism at its meanest level. Proudly displaying monuments to the Confederacy in this country is exactly the same as proudly displaying swastikas in Germany. To continue to allow the government sponsored display of Confederate symbols is not freedom but is, quite simply, a failure to recognize that their display represents the ashes of smoldering resentment whites have for African Americans. No action can support the progress we have made in our country to eliminate racism better than the swift removal of these egregious symbols. — C.R. Vantreese, Marietta

The divide in the country may never be fully settled. Yes, slavery ended with the Civil War, but resentment lives on. Forgiveness may be possible, but to forget is difficult, and we all still fall short of a universal love for mankind, whatever our race or creed. My friend suggested the movement of the statues of ALL Civil War generals to battlefields around the country. In addition, accompany these statues with documentation which indicate real truths behind the glory given these “heroes.” Do the same with other honored individuals, such as Thomas Jefferson, who in his Notes on the State of Virginia, stated his belief that blacks were inferior. Indeed, even our founding fathers were flawed, but facts should reveal this so that history can be put in perspective and allow future generations to form their own opinions. — Sue Lynch

I am against removing Confederate statues. Like it or not they represent HISTORY. No one has a right to whitewash history because they take it personal (say they glorify slavery - their narrow interpretation). Why are their beliefs worth more than the soldiers who died in the Civil War? Why don’t soldier’s descendants have any rights? Like it or not, the truth is it is wasted energy to worry about yesterday — it’s gone. It’s wasted energy to worry about tomorrow — it isn’t here yet. Make the most of today because you can’t get it back. You can’t change history, but one can help shape the future and that is where they should be expending today’s efforts. — Susan Mateja, Dallas

Our history is very important to all of us whether we like what happened or not. We owe it to our youth to have the material available to them in textbooks, not denying that it happened or not sharing all of the details from all points of view. Honoring our ancestors who fought for a way of life they believed at that time, is important to acknowledge. However, statues like our Stone Mountain who are visited by many visitors from our country and international guests would be hard to change. They attempt to show the end of the Civil War on the laser presentation so I realize it affects many people in certain ways. We need to seriously sit down and discuss the future for these statues with a variety of opinions. Museums and certain buildings could be used to honor those people where we could make the choice if we wanted to see them or not. The main concern is to do it in a civil and organized manner. — Carol Hundeby, Hoschton

Pamela Miller for the AJC

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