Workers remove a Confederate monument with a crane Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Decatur, Ga. The 30-foot obelisk in Decatur Square, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1908, was ordered by a judge to be removed and placed into storage indefinitely.
Photo: Ron Harris, AP Photo
Photo: Ron Harris, AP Photo

The Jolt: The fall of a 'lightning rod' for the Confederacy in Decatur sets a precedent

Late Thursday night, a crane arrived in downtown Decatur and a crowd of several hundred gathered to watch the slow dismantling of a Confederate monument that’s reviled by many of the city’s residents.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond had foreshadowed the action, scheduling a press conference this morning: what we now know will be a Juneteenth victory lap celebrating the monument’s removal from the county seat’s town square.

Mawuli Davis, co-chair of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, was among those present for the occasion, and he called the removal a victory for activists.

His group, and another called Hate Free Decatur, have held protests and demonstrations at the monument ever since the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. 

They had the support of the DeKalb County Commission and the Decatur City Council, but the General Assembly changed state law last year to make it more difficult to remove or relocate Confederate monuments, tying the hands of local officials.

That changed last week when a DeKalb County judge ruled that the 30-foot obelisk, which had become a flashpoint during recent protests, had become a “public nuisance” that needed to be put in storage as a matter of public safety. 

Workers remove a Confederate monument with a crane Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Decatur, Ga. The 30-foot obelisk in Decatur Square, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1908, was ordered by a judge to be removed and placed into storage indefinitely. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)

“In short, the Confederate obelisk has become an increasingly frequent target of graffiti and vandalism, a figurative lightning rod for friction among citizens, and a potential catastrophe that could happen at any time if individuals attempt to forcibly remove or destroy it,” Judge Clarence Seeliger wrote in his order.

There were no immediate appeals or challenges. No complaints, at least publicly, from Republican legislators who had pushed that 2019 law to prevent this from happening. No comment from Gov. Brian Kemp or state authorities.

And now, there is precedent as cities across Georgia - including Athens, Atlanta and Savannah -- discuss what to do with their odes to the “Lost Cause.”

Seeliger’s order says the monument should be placed in storage “indefinitely,” so it remains to be seen if anyone leads a campaign to restore this monument to its pedestal in downtown Decatur or another prominent place in the community. 

There’s another approach, too, pending in the Georgia Legislature to clear the way for the removals of Civil War monuments without a judge’s intervention. 

State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson introduced a measure this week that removes state protections for Stone Mountain and other memorials and markers that “encouraged, promoted, supported or advocated for the continuation of slavery.”

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FILE - In this June 24, 2015 file photo, a statue of Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Confederate vice president throughout the American Civil War, is on display in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif is calling for the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol as the contentious debate over the appropriateness of such memorials moves to the halls of Congress. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Another sign of a reckoning over monuments to white rule: U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Cassville Republican, endorsed state legislation to replace the U.S. Capitol statue of Alexander Stephens with Martin Luther King Jr.

Loudermilk said that while he generally opposes the destruction or removal of historic statues, he feels it’s “highly appropriate” to swap out Stephens — the vice president of the Confederate States — for King. 

“You cannot discuss Georgia’s history or our nation’s journey for freedom and liberty without mentioning the Civil Rights movement or Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” he said, adding that he’s “very proud” of King’s Georgia roots. 

The legislation’s fate in the final days of the General Assembly are unclear. The proposal, sponsored by Republican Scot Turner and Democrat Al Williams, would create an eight-member replacement committee to sort out the details. 

Each state is permitted to send two statues to be exhibited in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol. Georgia’s other statue is of Crawford Long, a famed physician best known for pioneering the use of an anesthetic.

Stephens’ descendants have joined the effort. Three years ago the great, great, great grand-nephews of Stephens wrote then-Gov. Nathan Deal a letter asking that Stephens’ statue be removed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she supports the removal of Confederate symbols and statues from the U.S. Capitol, and she already authorized the taking down of portraits of former House Speakers who served in the Confederacy.

Among the four portraits removed were two men from Georgia: Howell Cobb and Charles Crisp. Cobb served before the Confederate success, but Crisp was speaker in the 1890s, CQ Roll Call reported.

“I’m Cobb’s grand-daughter,” Denise Rucker Krepp wrote on Twitter. “Grateful that @SpeakerPelosi supported my request to remove Howell Cobb portrait.”

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The Georgia House Democratic Caucus voted this morning to take a position against a budget plan in the state Senate that cuts $1 billion in k-12 school funding, lays off and furloughs staffers, and reduces spending on dozens of programs.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell said the caucus is particularly concerned about the call for 11% in cuts “without any effort on the part of the Republican majority to try to find ways to reduce the $2.6 billion in cuts.” 

“It seeks to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable Georgians who need us to be fighting for them the most in the time of this global pandemic,” he said. 

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The Georgia GOP's state committee voted overwhelmingly to adopt an anti-racist resolution at a Thursday night virtual meeting, party chair David Shafer said. 
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U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans from Georgia. File photos.

Both Georgia U.S. senators have signed on as cosponsors of Sen. Tim Scott’s policing bill, a counter-proposal to the sweeping measure introduced by Democrats earlier this month.

Scott’s measure requires the attorney general’s office to draft new rules to limit the use of chokeholds, implements more de-escalation training for police officers, requires police agencies to report the use of no-knock warrants and creates a commission to study racial disparities in law enforcement.

Along with U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, several Georgia Republican House members have also lent their support, including Buddy Carter, Drew Ferguson, Doug Collins, Barry Loudermilk and Rob Woodall.

In a Fox News interview, Perdue said the topic of police reform was deeply personal to him: 

“I grew up in the Deep South. My dad was an educator. My mom and dad were teachers. My dad integrated one of the first school systems in Georgia. I’ve lived with this my entire life. I’ve also lived in Asia, where I had discrimination perpetrated toward me and my family. This is an emotional thing to me, and this is very serious.”

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In endorsement news:

  • Dr. John Cowan’s campaign continues to pick up steam after racist remarks from opponent Marjorie Taylor Greene were exposed. U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn of Florida and Greg Murphy of North Carolina are the latest to back Cowan. 

  • The Collective PAC, one of the largest political committees focused on African-American candidates and issues, is backing Rev. Raphael Warnock’s U.S. Senate campaign. So has U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and a growing list of current and former Georgia state legislators.

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President Donald Trump has consulted veteran Republicans for advice as he ramps up his re-election bid, Politico reports. Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue is among the sitting members of Congress who are reportedly on the president’s list.

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CNN purchased broadcasting rights to a documentary about former President Jimmy Carter that focuses on the influence of rock and roll during his political career. 

The AJC’s Rodney Ho has more:

Over the decades, there has been no shortage of angles to look at the ex-president from Plains, Georgia. But this documentary takes an unusual look at how music and musicians played a role in his rise from Georgia governor to the White House in 1976.

Among those who provide commentary in the doc include Willie Nelson, Bono, Bob Dylan, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Jimmy Buffett, Roseanne Cash, Chuck Leavell, Paul Simon, Andrew Young, and Madeleine Albright. There will also be archival performances by Buffett, Nelson and others.

Carter, in a press release, said he said he watched the film and was impressed: “It was entertaining and emotional for all of us. The film exceeded my expectations in every way. I’m thrilled that ‘Rock & Roll President’ will reach a broad audience on CNN. Despite the difficult times we are in, the film highlights my personal belief that we should remain hopeful and that music is a powerful source of hope in trying times.”

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A Latino advocacy group that supported Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor was fined $50,000 by the state Ethics Commission for failing to properly report its fundraising and spending to the state.

Gente4Abrams shelled out $240,000 to help Abrams win the primary but never reported either its expenditures or where the money came from, the AJC’s James Salzer wrote

Later, the group registered with the state and reported another $685,000 it spent to assist Abrams leading up to the general election.

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Donald Trump’s administration had illegally ended a program allowing people who entered the country illegally as children to remain in America.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court that the administration did not end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program correctly or with a good enough justification.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students celebrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after the Supreme Court rejects President Donald Trump’s bid to end legal protections for young immigrants, Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, issued a statement applauding the court decision but adding that Congress still needed to address immigration reform to create permanent protection for “Dreamers.”

“For several years now, DREAMers and their families have been living with terrible and gnawing uncertainty about their future in this country. They worry about deportation from their home and separation from families and children. Along with other immigrant and minority communities, DREAMers also bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic -- without the benefit of assistance provided to other Americans. 

“This morning’s decision may ease some of their anxiety, but there is still more work to do. DREAMers are American in all but paperwork, and their home is here. It is up to Congress to finally give them a full measure of relief.”

U.S. Sen. David Perdue similarly urged Congress to act, pointing out that President Donald Trump had proposed an immigration overhaul rejected by Democrats. 

Trump’s plan would have created a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but it also required funding for his U.S.-Mexico border wall and required new limitations on legal immigration.

“If we want to permanently solve this issue and prevent it from happening again, we need a bipartisan solution that strengthens our borders and provides a permanent solution for DACA recipients, who are still facing uncertainty,” Perdue said.

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