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Kennesaw leaders vote to remove Confederate battle flag from memorial

Kennesaw leaders will vote Monday to consider keeping the Confederate battle flag permanently off its war memorial. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
Kennesaw leaders will vote Monday to consider keeping the Confederate battle flag permanently off its war memorial. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

The city of Kennesaw will remove the Confederate battle flag from its war memorial.

City Council members on Monday unanimously voted to remove the flag from public property on Main Street.

Kennesaw's decision was based on its interpretation of a state law some believe prohibits the city removing the flag from the memorial. That law originated from a 2001 compromise in the Legislature that removed the segregation-era state flag that incorporated the Confederate battle flag; and stated no publicly owned monument on public property can be moved or altered in any way.

According to a resolution read by Mayor Derek Easterling, this statute also allows the city to “take appropriate measures for the preservation, protection, and interpretation” of memorials by replacing the “historically unrelated” battle flag with the one Georgia flew during the Civil War.

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Kennesaw’s vote occurred more than two hours after dozens of speakers weighed in on whether the battle flag should stay or go.

The majority of those residents, some of whom were Kennesaw State University students, wanted the city to take the flag down, while a few said Kennesaw would be violating state law if it removed the controversial symbol.

One resident, Matt Southwell, said symbols like the battle flag do not belong on public property, but in museums and textbooks.

MORE | An updated list of metro Atlanta Confederate memorials and the controversies surrounding them

“These are where those symbols belong so they can be properly contextualized with all of the facts surrounding them,” he said. “It’s time to take a stand and do whatever it takes to take it down so that we can move forward.”

Former City Councilman Jimmy Dickens said Kennesaw is his home and he wants to see its elected officials turn their back on a past and a flag that symbolizes hatred.

“This is the right thing to do,” he said.

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Resident Debra Williams said the City Council would be breaking state law if it removed the flag.

“When you break the law, you are at that moment a criminal and immediately should be arrested,” she said, adding elected officials should not base their decisions on their likes and dislikes.

Easterling said the city has already been threatened with legal action by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Timothy Pilgrim, Georgia Division commander of the organization, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that its letter to Kennesaw informed the city that if it didn’t put the flag back up, “we’ll take appropriate legal action to get it restored.”

“If they do it, they are in blatant violation of the law,” Pilgrim of the removal.

SEE ALSODeKalb judge orders Confederate monument to be moved by June 26

Councilman David Blinkhorn, who brought the issue up for discussion at last week's work session, said elected officials must follow through with the will of the people.

“When people rise up and make their voices heard, it’s the responsibility of those elected officials to listen and take action,” he said.

Councilman Chris Henderson said the flag distracts from the memorial’s purpose.

“Today, we take a stand against hate by removing the symbol so commonly associated with it,” he said.

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