Confederate statue damaged outside Coweta County courthouse

Credit: City of Newnan

Credit: City of Newnan

1 commissioner says he wants it removed or relocated

Deputies are investigating after three men recently damaged a Confederate statue located outside the historic Coweta County Courthouse in downtown Newnan — and one commissioner is now calling for its removal.

This incident comes amid a movement to tear down or relocate Confederate symbols across the South, many of which were erected during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era that followed. Since last year’s social unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, several longstanding Confederate monuments have been plucked from city squares across metro Atlanta.

A 30-foot obelisk that stood outside the DeKalb County Courthouse for more than 110 years was removed in June 2020 as hundreds looked on in downtown Decatur. The monument, erected in 1908 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was taken down after a superior court judge declared it to be a “public nuisance” and ordered it to be placed in storage. And earlier this year, a Confederate monument that stood in downtown Lawrenceville for nearly three decades was removed following two acts of vandalism. A statue outside the Douglas County Courthouse was also taken down late last year.

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The Coweta monument was damaged two weeks ago when three men climbed atop the statue of a Confederate soldier carrying a musket and broke off a piece of its bayonet, according to Channel 2 Action News. But the damage wasn’t reported until three days later when a courthouse employee leaving work the following Monday collected pieces of the statue and handed them to a deputy nearby, according to an incident report obtained Thursday from the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office.

Surveillance footage appeared to show at least two people climbing the monument late Sept. 17 before “taking something from the statue and leaving with it,” according to the report. The men have not been identified, officials said, but they face a felony and two misdemeanors. Potential charges include theft by taking, criminal interference with government property and first-degree criminal damage to property.

The statue, inscribed with the dates 1861-1865, was erected in 1885 by the Ladies’ Memorial Association to commemorate the Confederate soldiers killed in the war, according to the Historical Marker Database. “Our Confederate dead, whom power could not corrupt, whom death could not terrify, whom defeat could not dishonor” the front of the base reads.

The 7-foot-4 statue was sculpted from Italian marble and sits atop a 15-foot granite base, according to the website. The marker weighs about 16 tons.

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Al Smith, Coweta County’s only Black commissioner, called the Confederate statue divisive and said he would like to see it placed in a museum or moved to Brown’s Mill Battlefield, a 200-acre county-owned park that often hosts Civil War re-enactments.

“It’s really outlived its presence on the square,” said Smith, 68, who grew up in Newnan and remembers the segregation of his childhood. “The proper place for it is in the Confederate cemetery.”

He recalled the white and “colored” signs on the water fountains at the courthouse as a child, and said Black residents had to use restrooms located in the basement. Those who still support Confederate monuments in public places, Smith said, are either living in the past or enjoy making certain groups feel unwelcome.

“It’s just there to piss off Black folks,” said Smith, who has a sign company in Atlanta and is a pastor at Clark Chapel United Methodist Church in Luthersville. “People are still fighting that war in their minds and in their hearts.”

In 2018, a group of about two dozen neo-Nazis held a rally in downtown Newnan, but they were vastly outnumbered by police and the hundreds of counter-demonstrators who attended the event.

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The AJC reached out to Coweta’s other four commissioners for comment about the future of the Confederate statue, but none returned calls or emails Thursday afternoon.

County spokeswoman Cathy Wickey said the statue of the soldier has never led to protests, and that as far as she knows, commissioners haven’t formally discussed removing or relocating it. She said an investigation is underway and that no additional details about the damaged statue were available.

— Please return to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for updates.