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Henry residents speak out on Confederate monument removal

Henry residents Michael Burns talks about his support for removing the Confederate monument in the McDonough square.
Henry residents Michael Burns talks about his support for removing the Confederate monument in the McDonough square.

Two weeks after Henry County Commissioners approved a controversial resolution to remove a Confederate monument from McDonough’s square, residents got a chance to have their say.

And for the most part, they backed the commission’s decision.

“There was a time when the best transportation was horses. That time is gone,” Michael Burns said during public comments at Tuesday’s board meeting. “There was a time when honoring the Confederacy was popular and proper. Now that time is gone too.”

The commission’s July 7 decision to have the circa-1910 monument came as such shrines to the Confederacy were being removed in metro Atlanta and across the nation, from the Decatur square to Richmond, Virginia.

The Henry commissioners listened virtually while almost 20 people, many of whom came in-person to the county government building, voiced their opinions. The commissioners stopped meeting in person late last month after several Henry County employees tested positive for coronavirus, including Commissioner Johnny Wilson.

It didn’t take long for lines to be drawn.

Tim Culbreth, a member of the Sons of Confederate Soldiers , who opposed removing the monument, said his organization has been unfairly characterized as racists. In reality, he said, all they want to do is support veterans. He described Charles T. Zachry, whose likeness is portrayed in the statue at the top of the monument, as a hero who should be honored, not disposed of.

“The Sons of Confederate Soldiers have said one thing and one thing only, ‘We support all veterans,' he told commissioners. “We never said a color.”

But Siddiqa Gibson said we need to build monuments to people who inspire inclusiveness, not subjugation.

“That is what removing the monument would be about, progress,” she said. “Progress for our youth, progress for the future. "

The Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Soldiers and Ray McBerry, founder of the Georgia Minutemen, filed lawsuits to try to stop the county from removing the monument just days after the commission’s decision. The county is seeking to have it dismantled by sometime in August or early September.

As the debate intensified over the past two weeks, police investigated an accusation that Dee Clemmons, the Henry commissioner who introduced the resolution to remove the monument, released the personal information of someone with whom she engaged online. Henry Police said they found no wrongdoing.

Henry police also looked into fake social media posts claiming to be from Clemmons, which the commissioner disavowed and called “racist and slanderous.”

The commissioners on Tuesday also bickered over their decision, accusing each other of bad faith and not standing firmly by their vote.

The July decision of the six-member board was 4-1 in favor of the removal, with Commissioner Gary Barham dissenting. Wilson was unable to attend because he was quarantined with the virus. Both men said the board should have held off on such an important vote until the full commission could participate, even if it would not have changed the outcome.

“I’m disappointed, but not surprised that the commission moved forward without all six commissioners being there,” he said.

Clemmons pushed back, saying that she had informed board members in early June about her concerns over the monument and that to pretend its addition to the July agenda came out of nowhere was disingenuous.

“You had ample time to tell your constituents,” she said. “You had ample time to discuss it. You had ample time to say ‘Let’s not move forward with this.‘”