‘Genocide cannon’ removed from Decatur square

The former resting place of a cannon purported to a "relic of the Indian War of 1836." The cannon was removed Tuesday night, more than a century after it was placed near the Decatur square by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM
Caption
The former resting place of a cannon purported to a "relic of the Indian War of 1836." The cannon was removed Tuesday night, more than a century after it was placed near the Decatur square by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

In Decatur, the so-called “genocide cannon” will no longer be fodder for controversy.

The cannon — a purported “relic of the Indian War of 1836″ — was removed from its longtime home near the downtown Decatur square around 7 p.m. Tuesday, about a week after DeKalb County commissioners voted to place it in storage.

By Wednesday morning, all that was left at the site was a shallow hole and a handful of rocks.

“This victory proves that the earth beneath has more power than the cannon,” John Winterhawk, an elder with the Muscogee tribe, said in a press release issued by the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights.

For more than a year now the Beacon Hill group has led the charge to remove the cannon, which was installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1906. The alliance and other activists, which include a group of Decatur High School students, have called the cannon a shrine to white supremacy and brutality against Native Americans.

The pedestal’s reference to “the Indian War of 1836″ is an apparent allusion to the bloody clashes that ensued when the U.S. Army and militias from Georgia and Alabama forced thousands of Muscogee Creek people from their native lands.

An estimated 3,500 Native Americans died during the conflict and the ensuing Trail of Tears.

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Beacon Hill and other groups turned their full attention to the cannon last summer, shortly after another controversial monument near the Decatur square was taken down.

The 30-foot obelisk paying tribute to the Lost Cause — which was also erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy — was removed by the county in June 2020, after a ruling from now-retired Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger deemed it to be a public nuisance.

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The Decatur City Commission approved a resolution supporting the cannon’s removal last December but had no authority to act, with the relic resting on DeKalb County property.

The county legal department studied the issue for the better part of this year and, ultimately, helped craft the removal resolution that was first presented late last month by commissioners Mereda Davis Johnson and Ted Terry.

“DeKalb County and the city of Decatur are places of love, not hate. Of inclusion, not division,” Davis Johnson said Wednesday. “And so any sign that is divisive or is hurtful to others or a sign of oppression, we shouldn’t have in the county.”

According to the resolution, the cannon’s ownership remains unclear. There is no documentation of the cannon ever being formally donated to DeKalb County and no indication that it should be considered public property.

Officials also raised questions about the cannon’s authenticity, saying it has an “unknown origin and provenance and thus cannot be accurately attributed or dedicated to any particular historical or military entity or event.”

The cannon’s own inscription calls it a relic, not a memorial or anything similar.

All of those are potentially crucial distinctions should the cannon’s removal be challenged in court. The same Georgia law that makes it nearly impossible to remove Confederate monuments also restricts what local governments can do to alter or relocate other military tributes.

Under the resolution, an ad will be placed in the county’s legal organ asking for the cannon’s “rightful owner(s)” to come forward and claim it.

“It was a moving sight to see,” Terry, whose county commission district includes Decatur, said of the cannon’s removal. “I’m grateful for the advocacy from our Decatur and DeKalb County constituents. It was time for this relic to leave the public realm.”

In an emailed statement, Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett praised the county’s actions.

“The removal of the cannon from the city is an important step as Decatur strives to achieve inclusivity, equity and justice for all,” Garrett said.

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