Martin O’Toole, a spokesman for the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans, wrote in a Sunday afternoon Facebook post that putting the monument back up would “send a message around the state and nation vindicating our laws.”
“Decatur and DeKalb [County’s] actions have been cited in several venues as an example of a legitimate means by the ‘Cancel Culture’ to censor history,” wrote O’Toole, who is also a leader with the Charles Martel Society, an Atlanta-based white nationalist organization.
“This lawsuit should expose the falsity of these claims.”
The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the obelisk outside what’s now known as the Historic DeKalb Courthouse in 1908, part of a widespread Jim Crow-era effort to perpetuate myths about the Civil War and glorify white supremacy.
DeKalb County officials tried for several years to remove or relocate the monument but, even before Georgia laws restricting such actions were tightened further, couldn’t find a way to do so. In September 2019, the county settled for installing a contextualizing marker that called the obelisk an attempt to bolster “white supremacy and faulty history.”
Then, last summer, as nationwide protests over police killings of Black Americans and systemic racism roiled, the monument in Decatur became a frequent target for vandalism.
By June of 2020, Downs, the Decatur city attorney, had filed a lawsuit asking that DeKalb County — which owns the monument — be ordered to take it down. The petition did not directly challenge state law protecting Confederate tributes but called the obelisk a “public nuisance” and a threat to public safety.
Within a few days, and without DeKalb County filing a formal response, Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger issued an order agreeing with the city’s stance. He gave the county about two weeks to remove the monument and put it in storage.
Crews hired by the county took the obelisk down as the night of June 18, 2020, bled into the morning June 19 — Juneteenth, the holiday marking the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas were freed by Union troops.
In September, Seeliger issued a final order declaring that the obelisk “should not at any time” be returned to the square.
DeKalb officials did not immediately respond Monday to inquiries regarding the new lawsuit from the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The county typically does not comment on pending litigation.
But in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Downs called the suit a “tardy, vexatious attack on properly entered rulings by a Georgia court of law.” The Decatur city attorney wrote that the Confederate group had more than three months to try and intervene before Seeliger issued his final order, but did nothing.
“The Petition they have now filed is factually incorrect, legally flawed, and procedurally deficient,” Downs wrote. “In short, it is a lost cause.”
STORY SO FAR
In June 2020, the city of Decatur filed a petition calling the Confederate obelisk outside the Historic DeKalb Courthouse a public nuisance. A judge granted the petition and ordered DeKalb County to take the monument down. DeKalb complied, the monument was removed and has remained in storage since.
Last week, the Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a new lawsuit arguing the monument should be replaced, saying the city and county acted in collusion to circumvent state law.