Cities across the South are giving Confederate memorials a hard look. In 2018, Atlanta renamed its Confederate Avenue, and began debate on what to do with four monuments on city property. Other recommendations by an advisory committee formed in 2017 are also being considered.
Atlanta's position in the debate is unique — the city's fall figures large in the "Lost Cause" narrative, thanks in part to "Gone With the Wind." Yet the city has also positioned itself as the standard-bearer of the New South, eager to embrace the future.
At stake is which historical narrative deserves to be set in stone.
The city's advisory committee considered these categories of monuments: those that honored dead soldiers soon after the war; those that promoted the "Lost Cause" and white supremacy in the Jim Crow era; those that promoted North-South reconciliation during Jim Crow; and those that expressed resistance to Civil Rights advances after 1954. The committee also considered community input in its recommendations.
Here are the most visible places in Atlanta that commemorate the Confederacy and its leaders.
LION OF THE CONFEDERACY (Oakland Cemetery)
Historical markers may be plentiful, but for a city that saw so much Civil War fighting, Atlanta has remarkably few large displays memorializing the Confederacy. The two largest can be found in Oakland Cemetery. This monument, based on Switzerland's Lion of Lucerne, is surrounded by the graves of 3,000 unknown Confederate soldiers. It was constructed in 1895 by the Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association and is on a Smithsonian list of significant funerary art.
Atlanta's advisory committee recommended that iconography within Oakland Cemetery be left in place with added context.
THE CONFEDERATE OBELISK (Oakland Cemetery)
Made from Stone Mountain granite, this obelisk anchoring the Confederate section of Oakland Cemetery is the tallest object in Oakland Cemetery. It was erected in 1873 by the the Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association.
The Confederate section of Oakland holds 6,900 soldiers, some who died during battles fought along Sherman's campaign towards the city, and some from other battles who found themselves treated at Atlanta military hospitals.
As with the Lion of the Confederacy, the Atlanta committee recommended to leave this monument in place with added context, and to remove the Confederate flag flying next to it.
WESTVIEW CEMETERY MEMORIAL
The cemetery sits where the Battle of Ezra Church was fought during the Campaign for Atlanta. This memorial was erected by the Confederate Veterans Association of Fulton County in the Confederate section of the cemetery. It's ringed by soldiers' graves and has a pair of small cannons guarding it. Nearby Mozley Park, where Ezra Church stood, contains more historical markers commemorating the battle.
W.H.T. WALKER MEMORIAL (Glenwood Avenue)
Confederate Gen. W.H.T. Walker is memorialized in the spot where he was shot dead by a Union sniper, at today's intersection of Wilkinson Drive and Glenwood Avenue. About half a mile away at Monument and McPherson Avenues, a similar monument marks the spot where Union General John B. McPherson was killed by Confederate forces the same day.
In its published report, the Atlanta committee concluded that the Walker memorial was "a battlefield marker and does not serve a purpose of glorification." The committee recommended adding context to both the Walker and McPherson memorials.
PEACE MONUMENT (Piedmont Park)
This one's complicated. The large monument greeting park visitors at 14th Street depicts a Confederate soldier with an angel calling a halt to his fighting. It was intended as a peace offering but became a flashpoint twice in 2017.
That year, protesters defaced the monument with paint and tried to topple it. Then a few months later, the Atlanta committee report concluded that it represented "Lost Cause mythology" and recommended its removal.
The monument was built in 1911 by former members of the Gate City Guard—a Confederate-era city militia—that was on a peace mission to unite the North and South in the decades after the Civil War.
Today's Old Guard of the Gate City Guard still rededicates the monument each year, and on the group's website, acknowledges the Peace Monument's complicated message: 'Newspaper accounts of the day confirm that the Peace Monument represented different things to different people: Patriotism, reconciliation, the pledge of friendship and good will, and optimism about America's unfinished history were all sponsors. There is much historical evidence to suggest that it also represented a tribute to a proud people, who, even though defeated, still remained unconquered.'
PEACHTREE BATTLE AVENUE MONUMENT (Peachtree Battle Avenue)
The Old Guard of the Gate City Guard is behind this monument too, erected in 1935. Like the Peace Monument, its carved message stresses reconciliation between the North and South. The Atlanta committee concluded that the monument "falsely depicts the character of post-Civil War reconciliation by reflecting Lost Cause mythology" and recommended that it be removed.
SIDNEY LANIER BUST (Piedmont Park)
This statue was erected by the Piedmont Park Association in 1914. Lanier was a famous musician, poet and author from Macon who was inducted as a charter member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. His artistic legacy is so large that Lanier County and Lake Lanier are named after him.
In his youth, Lanier was a Confederate soldier who was captured by Union forces. He contracted tuberculosis while a prisoner of war and this condition would plague him until his death. Lanier's only published novel was a good-vs-evil tale with a Yankee villian.
In 2012, the bust was relocated to Oglethorpe University and a replica was installed at Piedmont Park. The Atlanta committee concluded that the bust was not a Confederate monument and recommended leaving it in place.
ATLANTA STREET NAMES
The committee report identified 34 city streets possibly memorializing the Confederacy. Some street names would need further study to understand their context. The committee recommended a process for deciding which street names might get changed but recommended that some names get changed immediately: Confederate Avenue, East Confederate Avenue, and any street named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, John B. Gordon, Robert E. Lee, Stephen Dill Lee, or Howell Cobb. (UPDATE: In August 2018, City Council Member Carla Smith filed legislation to change the names of Confederate Avenue, East Confederate Avenue and Confederate Court SE. Residents selected “United Avenue” as a possible new name.)
ETERNAL FLAME OF THE CONFEDERACY (Underground Atlanta)
This gas lamp was one of 50 original Atlanta Gas Light Co. lamps first lit on Christmas Day, 1855. It stood on the northeast corner of Alabama and Whitehall (now Peachtree) Streets, right next to where Solomon Luckie stood when he was struck by a shell during the Siege of Atlanta in 1864. (The photo on the left, from 1957, also shows where the shell blast damaged the front bottom of the lamppost.)
According to Atlanta Time Machine, the lamp was displayed in City Hall from 1864-1880 as a war memento and wound up being returned in 1919 to its street corner. During the 1939 'Gone With the Wind' premiere, the Old Guard Battalion of the Gate City Guard lit the lamp and declared it 'The Eternal Flame of the Confederacy.'
The creation of the viaduct and Underground Atlanta muddle the history of the lamp's location a bit — at one point it stood above ground. Then it was moved below to Underground Atlanta at roughly the same location, which today is right outside a set of public restrooms.
Underground Atlanta is now closed to the public as it undergoes an extensive redevelopment. In 2017, the City Council voted to donate the lamppost to the Atlanta History Center, in effect moving it to Buckhead.
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CONFEDERACY (Rhodes Hall)
Not all memorials are built of stone or metal. This granite mansion in Midtown has a series of stained glass windows that show the history of the Confederacy, including key battles and portraits of generals and statesmen. The windows were reinstalled at the home in 1990 after spending 25 years in storage at the Georgia Archives. Rhodes Hall hasn't been a public space since the Georgia Trust took possession of it in 1983, but it spent decades as a state building — the home of the Georgia Archives from 1930-65.
The following statues and busts of Confederate leaders are found on the Capitol grounds. Although highly visible in the heart of Atlanta, they are state property and not the subject of the Atlanta committee's report.
JOHN BROWN GORDON STATUE (Georgia Capitol)
The State Capitol grounds pay tribute to several Confederate-era political figures, including this imposing John Brown Gordon statue. Gordon was a three-star Confederate general and served as governor and U.S. senator. Historians generally agree that he was also the unofficial leader of Georgia's Ku Klux Klan.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON STEPHENS (Georgia Capitol)
Stephens was elected vice president of the Confederacy and served as a U.S. senator after the war, but the Senate refused to seat him. He eventually served in the House, and served a few months as governor before his death. Another sculpture of Stephens can be found in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C. — one of two statues contributed by Georgia.
JOSEPH BROWN (Georgia Capitol)
Brown was Georgia's governor while it was a Confederate state. He served on the Georgia Supreme Court and as a U.S. senator after the war.
BENJAMIN HARVEY HILL (Georgia Capitol)
Hill was a Confederate senator and was later elected to the U.S. House and Senate.
Other Confederate monuments in metro Atlanta:
STONE MOUNTAIN CARVING (Stone Mountain Park)
The 90-feet-by-190-feet carving of Robert E. Lee, Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson, and Jefferson Davis is the largest Confederate monument in the world, as well as the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world. The carving was first conceived by a founding member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1916. Work began in 1923, was scrapped and restarted in 1925, abandoned in 1928, restarted in 1964 and completed in 1972.
While it seems unlikely that a carving of its size would ever be removed, some critics still like to imagine how it could be done.
STONE MOUNTAIN MEMORIAL LAWN (Stone Mountain Park)
Stone Mountain Park is home to several other smaller memorials, including thirteen terraces that line the sides of the Memorial Lawn. (The terraces might be best known as the path taken when finding a seat for the laser light show.) Each terrace is dedicated to a Confederate state and flies the flag that state flew from 1861-65.
DEKALB CONFEDERATE MONUMENT (DeKalb County Courthouse/Decatur Square)
This obelisk was built in 1908, long before there was a Decatur Square built up around it. In fact, it predates the courthouse next to it. The former DeKalb courthouse burned to the ground in 1916 and was replaced by the current building.
In the 1970s, construction of the Marta line further changed the surrounding landscape and in doing so, created the Decatur Square that we know today.
The monument has often looked out of place as Decatur has become one of the more liberal environments in the state. In 2017, DeKalb commissioners voted 6-1 to seek the obelisk's removal but couldn't find anyone to take it off their hands. As of 2018, DeKalb is still seeking a solution.
JEFFERSON DAVIS HIGHWAY MARKER (Agnes Scott College)
You'll find this marker on the border of Agnes Scott College, on East College Avenue near the South McDonough Street intersection. (A similar marker sits on East Lake Road at Ponce de Leon Avenue.) In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy conceived of naming a transcontinental series of highways after Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It would counter a similar proposal that had been made the year before for an Abraham Lincoln Highway.
As the U.S. Dept. of Transportation explains, 'In that era, it was common for private organizations to identify a route, give it a name, and promote its use and improvement.' The Jefferson Davis Highway eventually stretched all the way to the border with Canada in the Northwest. In 1925, a new government numbering system for highways made the name obsolete, although some Southern states continued to preserve the name. UDC markers such as this one can still be found across the country.
UPDATE: Agnes Scott College removed this marker in 2018 over the objections of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
U.D.C. CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS MONUMENT (Marietta Confederate Cemetery)
The Marietta Confederate Cemetery holds 3,000 Confederate soldiers, grouped by home state. This obelisk was erected by the Kennesaw Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
THE LITTLE CANNON (Marietta Confederate Cemetery)
The carving by this cannon tells the story: 'This little cannon served at the Georgia Military Institute from 1852 to 1864, then went into the Confederate Army, was captured on Sherman's March to the Sea, 1864-1865, was held as a trophy of war until 1910, when it was returned by the United States government to the Confederate Cemetery at Marietta Georgia.'
UNKNOWN SOLDIERS MONUMENT (Brown Park, Marietta)
This memorial in Brown Park, right outside the entrance to the Marietta Confederate Cemetery, honors 1,000 of the approximately 3,000 Confederate soldiers buried in unnamed graves in the cemetery. The memorial was built and dedicated in 2009 by the Marietta Confederate Cemetery Foundation and the Friends of Brown Park.
GEORGIA CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS MONUMENT (Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park)
This is not the large, well-known Civil War memorial at Cheatham Hill—that one is actually dedicated to Union soldiers from Illinois. This lesser-known memorial is near the park's visitors center and commemorates Georgia's Confederate soldiers. The carving on its front says, 'We sleep here in obedience to law / When duty called, we came / When country called we died.'
CONFEDERATE VETERANS OF GWINNETT MONUMENT (Old Gwinnett County Courthouse)
This monument was dedicated in 1993 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It includes this quote by Winston Churchill: 'Any people with contempt for their heritage have lost faith in themselves and no nation can long survive without pride in its traditions.'
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.