UGA group considers removing portrait of Confederate leader

A University of Georgia student organization may remove a portrait of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee from its hall, saying this month’s deadly, racially-charged clashes in Charlottesville, Va. convinced some leaders now is the time to remove it.

“With the tensions in Charlottesville, it’s the right time to bring it down,” Alanna Pierce, president of the organization, the Demosthenian Literary Society, said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday.

Pierce, a first-year UGA law student and the first African-American president of the society, said some alumni members are against the idea, expressing “strong feelings about honoring the Confederacy.” However, she believes keeping portraits of Confederate figures “praises what that history was.”

UGA officials said Tuesday there are no Confederate statues on the campus.

The 40-member society, founded in 1803 and believed to be the oldest such group on campus, is scheduled to vote on the idea Thursday evening, Pierce said. The society does not need the university’s permission to remove the portrait, she and University of Georgia officials said.

The society is an oratory organization that meets weekly during the school year. Members must have participated in at least one debate and pay $20 a semester in dues. Pierce said the society’s chamber include portraits of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and political activist and writer Emma Goldman.

Pierce said society members had previously discussed removing the painting, which she said is in the society’s upper chamber. Lee was a leading general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

A national debate over materials honoring Confederate leaders raged after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof was sentenced to death for killing nine African-Americans attending a Bible study lesson in their Charleston, S.C. church in 2015. The arguments flared again this month after a woman was killed during protests in Charlottesville, led on one side by neo-Nazis, white nationalists and the Ku Klux Klan. President Donald Trump angered many by criticizing recent decisions to remove Confederate monuments across the country.

Since Charlottesville, some campuses have removed or announced plans to take down monuments and statues of Lee and others. Those campuses include the University of Texas, Duke University and Bronx Community College.

In Georgia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has called for the removal of the giant carving that depicts Lee and two other Confederate leaders on state-owned Stone Mountain.