Kennesaw to state: Let us decide what to do with our Confederate flag

Kennesaw’s elected leaders want state lawmakers to give them the power to decide what to do with the Confederate flag that has long flown over the city’s downtown.

The flag, which was cut down at least two times last week, is located in the heart of downtown at the corner of Main and Cherokee streets. A recent petition has garnered thousands of signatures to take down the flag following national efforts to remove Confederate items from public spaces following a rally by white nationalists that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But Kennesaw’s Confederate flag is protected by a state law that restricts the movement or removal of veteran memorials.

The statute, which originated from a 2001 compromise that removed a segregation-era state flag, says no publicly owned monument on public property can be moved or altered in any way. The Confederate flag in Kennesaw is part of a war memorial honoring veterans of various wars, city officials have said.

Monday night, council members voted 4 to 1 to ask state leaders to “allow local municipalities the ability to determine, in their sole discretion and within their jurisdictional limits,” the best way to honor the service of military personnel.

Reid Jones started the petition on about a week ago to remove the flag. The petition has garnered more than 4,600 signatures from metro Atlanta and beyond.

“... The removal of the Confederate flag from the public flag pole in downtown Kennesaw would serve as a message to all that our community strives for equality and unity, rather than disparity and division,” the petition reads.

The 19-year-old, who said he and as many as 50 protesters marched to Monday’s meeting, didn’t realize that Kennesaw’s hands were tied by the state law.

The law also protects Stone Mountain's carving of Confederate leaders, which Democratic candidate for governor Rep. Stacey Abrams has said should be sandblasted.

While it might not take explosives to remove the flag in Kennesaw, the topic certainly is incendiary.

“Looked like I saw a bunch of Southern bigots,” said Johnny Hawkins, wearing a Confederate flag-print baseball cap, when describing the protesters.

Hawkins, who has lived in Kennesaw all his 77 years, said his great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy.

“It’s our heritage, and we honor our Confederate veterans,” he said.

Hawkins is disgusted by national efforts to take the flag down.

The council’s resolution doesn’t say whether city leaders would touch the flag even if they got permission to do so.

Daniel Dobry, 31, of Kennesaw, poses with the sign he marched with to city hall in favor of removing the city's Confederate flag downtown.

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Daniel Dobry told the city council that he's lived in Kennesaw 24 years and wants the flag down. He graduated from the first full class to go through at Kennesaw Mountain High School in 2004.

With a white father and black mother, he feels the flag is intimidating.

But even if the flag comes down, it will remain outside Dent “Wildman” Meyers’ store across from the memorial, Dobry said.

Before the meeting Monday, there was a contingent outside Wildman's of police and patrons of the store that sells Civil War memorabilia and racially charged material.

A Jeep flying the American and Confederate flags zipped by honking. Others vehicles had drivers shaking their heads.

"It's not to destroy the flag,” Dobry, 31, told The Atlanta Journal-Consitution after the petition passed. “it's to relegate the flag to where it belongs," In Dobry’s opinion, that place is a museum.

Monday’s vote comes as other efforts to remove Confederate reminders increase.

There's a growing petition to remove a Confederate monument from Decatur Square. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has also said he will consider renaming streets like Confederate Avenue in Grant Park.

Standing outside city hall after the Kennesaw resolution passed, Jones the petition organizer went to shake Hawkins' hand and introduce himself. The older man refused.

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Recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has refueled the debate over Confederate monuments. As chair of the Atlanta History Center board of trustees and an African American man, Ernest Greer a unique perspective.