Resolution opposing Decatur monument introduced, ownership questioned

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Resolution opposing Decatur monument introduced, ownership questioned

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Protesters gather before Decatur’s 109-year-old Confederate monument during a September march. That monument is getting closer to removal from the city’s square and probably to the nearby cemetery. Bill Banks for the AJC

On Oct. 10 DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson introduced her resolution calling for removal of the Confederate monument on Decatur’s square during a Planning, Economic Development and Community Services Committee meeting. The committee unanimously approved the document, and now it seems mere formality that county commissioners will do the same during their Oct. 24 meeting.

If that happens then both DeKalb and the City of Decatur have officially signed off on moving the monument. Although there have been no discussions between the two governments regarding the landmark’s future, Hate Free Decatur—the organization driving this action—advocates its relocation to the Decatur cemetery.

One problem is that the county’s uncertain about who owns the monument and who owns the land it sits on. Davis-Johnson said that a month-long title search has proved inconclusive.

“It’s not an issue with the City of Decatur,” City Manager Peggy Merriss said last week. “We’re pretty certain we don’t own the monument.”

The roughly 30-foot tall obelisk was commemorated in front of the courthouse in April 1908. But that building burned in 1916, destroying most of the interior and most likely all records within.

No matter who owns it, there’s also the matter of a state law that appears to prohibit such monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion.”

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur and state Rep. Renitta Shannon, D-Decatur, are currently drafting legislation to allow local governments to take action involving monuments in their communities

But Davis Johnson prefers the monument’s removal before the General Assembly even convenes next January. Assuming DeKalb’s commission approves the resolution later this month, the county has 30 days to get a definitive title verdict and a legal opinion on the state law.

“I would say this can be resolved,” Davis Johnson said. “I think we’ll know 30 days after we approve the resolution, and I would hope we’d start removing it on the 31st day.”

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