Kennesaw councilman attends last meeting after resigning over Civil War shop

Kennesaw councilman James “Doc” Eaton attended his last meeting Monday, resigning after the city renewed the business permit for the controversial Wildman’s Civil War Surplus — a store known for selling racist novelties on Main Street in the heart of downtown.

The store reopened last week under the new permit, prompting Eaton to announce his resignation effective June 21 and his daughter to announce that she would sell a building across the street from Wildman’s in protest of the reopening.

“The city issued the new business license, so now the new owner can perpetuate this blight and bigotry on Main Street,” Eaton said at the meeting. “Silence on issues that matter is agreement. It is not the sign of true leadership.”

Cris Eaton Welsh, the councilman’s daughter, said she will move her chiropractic business outside of the city limits.

Wildman’s Civil War Surplus has been a point of controversy in Kennesaw for years, with some saying the store promotes white supremacy and others saying it preserves history. Several items in the shop are labeled with racial slurs. A Ku Klux Klan mask sits on display near Jim Crow-era dolls and statues portraying Black people in a derogatory manner.

During public comments at Monday’s council meeting, some residents expressed their disdain for the store and the message it sends, while also acknowledging its right to exist.

“I agree with a lot of people here that the store and what it stands for is appalling,” Trey Bodenhamer said. “However, it is their First Amendment right.”

Others said they do not think the city should have granted the business permit, calling the store a stain on the community.

“Is white supremacy the brand our city is trying to promote in 2022? Is this the legacy that you all want to leave behind as leaders of our city?” Patricia Hill, a downtown business owner, said to the city council.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Jill Smith also owns a downtown business but said she will not be moving despite disagreements over Wildman’s. She added that “one business will not define Kennesaw.”

While the city manager and the mayor did not respond to the public discussion, some city councilmembers acknowledged the issue and thanked people for speaking.

“It’s clear to me that we are working with a code which needs to be updated and bolstered,” Councilman Trey Sinclair said, vowing to work with the council and the community to see what can be done.

Dent “Wildman” Myers first opened the shop in 1971. When he died in January, some thought his business would close for good.

But the license was renewed by Marjorie Lyon, a longtime friend and employee of Myers and the trustee of the Dennis Alvah Myers Revocable Living Trust, which owns the corporation and the store.

Ownership of Dent Myers Enterprises was transferred to the trust in 2015, according to city documents provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Eaton said that while Myers was “grandfathered” into the city code, those allowances should not be extended to Lyon. But because she is not listed as owning Wildman’s, ownership did not change, according to city documents.

The city’s protocol for business ownership changes and city code allowances is unclear. The Kennesaw city manager, city attorney and communications team would not answer questions regarding the business permit renewal process or the granting of the permit to Wildman’s.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC