Morgan McNeel didn’t quite understand what he was seeing when the statue toppled to the ground.
Protesters looped a yellow strap around the neck of a Confederate statue at the Durham County courthouse in North Carolina and yanked. When they did, a piece of McNeel’s family history tumbled headfirst into the grass.
Two generations ago, his kin founded the McNeel Marble Co. in Marietta and grew it into one of the nation’s most prolific Confederate monument makers. Often using Georgia granite and Italian marble, they built more than 140 Confederate monuments, of which dozens are in Georgia.
Gould Hagler, a Dunwoody man who wrote the book "Georgia's Confederate Monuments," said McNeel made more of the state's monuments to the Confederacy — 42 — than any other company. And McNeel prospered, eventually opening offices in Birmingham and New York.
There’s no evidence that the company made “thousands” of monuments. Historians and the family, however, don’t have a full accounting of what McNeel built in its nearly 70 years.
“The focus wasn’t on the artisans who made it; the focus was on the men that they honored,” he said.
Credit: Gould Hagler
Credit: Gould Hagler
The Southern Poverty Law Center started a national analysis of Confederate memorials in June 2015 after Dylann Roof — who talked of starting a race war — killed a pastor and eight other people at the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The study, which the SPLC admitted was incomplete, said it reviewed federal and state databases along with private submissions to come up with the list. It found Georgia has 90 Confederate monuments. That's a tie with North Carolina for the second most in the nation; Virginia allegedly has the most.
The study includes nearly every Georgia city listed in the McNeel catalog and matches the timetable for when the company would have been making the statues, so it is feasible that McNeel made almost half of the state’s Confederate monuments.
Ben Brasch is the reporter tasked with keeping Fulton County government accountable. The Florida native moved to Atlanta for a job with The AJC. If there's something important to you going on in Fulton, he wants to know about it. Help him better metro Atlanta by dropping a line, anonymously or otherwise.