The Confederate statue in Lawrenceville’s square is coming down.
Gwinnett County commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to remove the monument from public view and place it in storage in the next 30 days, pending a legal decision about its future.
State law prohibits the removal or relocation of Confederate monuments, except “for the preservation, protection, and interpretation” of them. But commissioners said in a resolution that the monument was vandalized twice last year, and leaving it in Lawrenceville “may result in additional acts of vandalism and create a public safety concern.”
Gwinnett’s solicitor, Brian Whiteside, filed a request last summer to have it taken down, calling the statue a “public nuisance.” Whiteside said Tuesday that he plans to ask that the lawsuit be dismissed.
County commissioners made no comments about their decision at the meeting, voting on it as part of a consent agenda, where it was one of several items approved with a single vote.
But Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson, the first Black person to lead Gwinnett’s government, said while signing a proclamation for a National Day of Racial Healing that righting such inequities is hard work.
“I’m happy to promote some of these tough conversations in Gwinnett County,” she said.
Hendrickson said Friday she could not comment about the decision because of the pending litigation, but two other commissioners said it was time for the monument to go.
“To me, it’s a huge deal,” said Kirkland Carden, a county commissioner. “Before we can address the bigger problems, we have to address some of the fiction, the systemic racism, we are taught.”
Not everyone is pleased with the decision. Shirley Ice, who lives in Lawrenceville, asked commissioners whether the move was the way to unity. The vote was taken the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and as the commission celebrated the National Day of Racial Healing.
“Why is this necessary?” Ice asked. “Are we trying to erase history just to say that we can do it?”
She went on to say that the decision “doesn’t seem to be a way to bring us together in these rough and tumble times.”
“It doesn’t seem too offensive to me, and I’m a good, taxpaying citizen,” Ice said.
The Lawrenceville monument has an early Confederate flag etched into it, as well as a picture of a Confederate soldier and, among writing, bears the dates 1861-1865 and the notation “LEST WE FORGET.” It also has a quote from Winston Churchill.
Joseph Bath, commander of the Lawrenceville camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said it was “the most benign Confederate monument in the country.”
Bath’s group is a party to the suit, and he said he could not comment on what might happen to the statue. But he said he’s sad about the monument’s fate.
“It’s been rough,” Bath said. “I always believed in the true Confederate idea. There was far more to it than just slavery.”
Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, said for her it all comes down to slavery. Hutchinson said she had traced her ancestry back to a slave and her master.
“When I look in the mirror, I don’t need a Confederate monument,” she said.
Marlene Taylor-Crawford, president of Gwinnett’s United Ebony Society, said she hoped the monument ended up in a museum or a cemetery.
Curtis Clemons, a member of the Gwinnett Remembrance Project Coalition, said the monument had long been a reminder to minority residents that they weren’t welcome. It was erected near the site of the 1911 lynching of Charles Hale, and installed just as Gwinnett’s minority population began growing.
“To have that removed is the beginning of healing,” he said. “There’s hope for progress.”
Edward Muldrow, the chair of Gwinnett’s Republican party, also applauded the move, calling Confederate monuments “the original participation trophy” and saying the Confederacy was clearly “on the wrong side of history.” He said the statue should have come down long ago.
“Anybody in 1993 that thought this would be a good idea definitely had bad intentions,” Muldrow said. “If this was a matter of history, where were the monuments and statues to the victors?”