At Issue: Who owns monument in Decatur Square?

In the past two months the Confederate monument on Decatur’s square has probably received more attention than ever, at least since it was commemorated in April 1908.

This 30-foot tall obelisk, like monuments everywhere, is unquestionably a symbol. But a symbol of what?

For those who erected it, nearly 43 years to the day after Appomattox, the Civil War was as fresh as the earthworks still lining the city square. They saw this as honoring the nearly two generations of Southern men wiped out by an unimaginably brutal war. In a nation of 31.5 million (north and south combined) a total 623,000 died, exceeding all this nation’s wars combined through Vietnam. Nearly as many Americans were wounded and permanently debilitated.

But Sara Patenaude, a PhD candidate in history who helped found Hate Free Decatur, sees it much differently.

“[Hate Free Decatur is] about dismantling the system the monument represents, dismantling white supremacy in Decatur,” she said recently.

And lately the obelisk has become a symbol of entangled local bureaucracy.

This week the DeKalb Commission will almost certainly pass a resolution calling for removal of the monument, which was erected in four sections. Decatur’s commission approved a similar resolution last month.

But the county is now saying it’s uncertain about who owns the monument and who owns the land it sits on, and that a month-long title search has proved inconclusive. Meantime Decatur insists, as it has all along, both land and landmark are owned by DeKalb.

Then there’s the state law passed in 2001 that appears to prohibit such monuments, regardless of who owns it, from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion.”

So how do you sort out this situation? Who owns it, what does it stand for, where does it go and if it does go who pays for it and is it worth the cost?

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