“I don’t want to magnify it beyond the real reasons,” Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The real reasons were safety for people coming and going from the Capitol, and the steps needed to be repaired. And the statue was in the way.”
Benton said he understood Deal’s reasoning for moving the statue but that he worried Georgia was ignoring the good and bad about its past.
Watson, a former state lawmaker, congressman and U.S. senator, was viewed by many as a hero when his statue was dedicated in 1932. He came to prominence in the late 1800s, championing the needs of poor farmers and sharecroppers of all races. That support waned with time. Watson, who owned a weekly newspaper, endorsed taking the vote from African-Americans and launched anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic diatribes in his editorials.
Benton earlier this year introduced legislation under House Bill 91 that would make it harder to remove historical markers, statues and monuments and would require relocation to a place of similar significance.
“You can’t pick and choose what history you’re going to remember or you’ll lose a whole bunch of your past,” Benton said. “Watson was a racist and anti-Semite, but he was also probably the most powerful politician in Georgia for 25 years.”