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Decatur’s first Black mayor: Confederate monument should be moved

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Elizabeth Wilson, Decatur’s first Black mayor and first female mayor, said she remembers the first time she saw the Klu Klux Klan hold a rally at the square in downtown Decatur.

 Nearly 60 years later, a monument was erected in honor of Wilson in the same area the KKK once marched. In an interview with The Champion, Wilson said another monument in the area needs to go.

 The Decatur Confederate monument, erected in 1908, is the topic of discussion for many DeKalb County and city of Decatur officials.

 After a protest turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va., over the removal of a confederate statue, many cities have considered moving their Confederate monuments to a different location.

 “I think the [monument] should be somewhere, just not in the public square,” Wilson said. “It should be in a place where people can study it, because there is some history behind it.”

 In 1907, the Agnes Lee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised approximately $2,000 to commission the statue. Some believe the statue was created as a symbol of support for Jim Crow laws in the south.

 Wilson said the statue, in a way, represents the racial basis at that time.

 “In the African-American community, we fought in these wars, too. My family members fought hard for this country and many African-American families fought for this country, but we were treated like second-class citizens,” Wilson said. “No one thought to recognize that. No one thought to say thank you.”

 During a recent city commission meeting, Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett addressed residents who want to replace the Confederate monument with a statue in Wilson’s honor.

 Garrett said Wilson already has a statue in the Decatur square, which was created in 2000.

 When asked her thoughts on a statue of herself replacing the confederate monument, or a statue of her standing alongside the Confederate monument to give it balance, Wilson laughed for several minutes.

 “For some of us, the Confederate monument is going to be offensive as long as it sits where it sits. The rest of the people want it there and how they view it is different. There could be a place for it,” Wilson said.

 Many Decatur residents have expressed their concern with the Confederate monument’s current location. Joseph Walker of Hate Free Decatur said his petition to remove the monument has reached more than 2,000 signatures.

 “Hate has no place in the city, and neither does this monument,” Walker said. “We’re asking for the city of Decatur to honor our request and remove the statue.”

 DeKalb and Decatur officials said there are legal concerns in regards to removing the statue. According to state law, “It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, corporation, or other entity acting without authority to mutilate, deface, defile, abuse contemptuously, relocate, remove, conceal, or obscure any privately owned monument, plaque, marker, or memorial which is dedicated to, honors, or recounts the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state, the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof.”

 County commissioners and state representatives could request the state legislature change or amend the law to allow cities to remove monuments.

 A petition to keep the monument where it is circulated around DeKalb County and as of Aug. 23 has more than 1,000 signatures.

 The creator of the petition, listed as Barry Colbaugh on the site change.org, said residents should urge officials to keep the monument at its current location.

 “The Decatur Confederate monument was designed for one purpose, to remember the soldiers who served and died in defense of their homes. Some of whom went on to help Decatur recover after the war,” Colbaugh wrote. “The Confederate veterans of Decatur and DeKalb County deserve better. This monument has sat at the Decatur Courthouse since 1908 and has had no issues for over a century until groups seeking to destroy history put the monument squarely in their sights.”

 

 

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One Comment

  1. Sara Patenaude says:

    The two petitions are hardly comparable. While we seek to correct a historic act of white supremacist terror upon the black community of DeKalb County, the other petitioners look to reinforce this oppression and maintain hate under the guise of heritage.

    That these two petitions are not comparable is also abundantly clear from examining the differences in signers of each petition.

    Residents of Decatur and Atlanta are clearly in favor of moving the monument. From our more than 2,100 petition signers:
    - 96% live in Georgia
    - 48% live in Decatur
    - 89% live in Metro Atlanta
    - 7% live elsewhere in Georgia

    Those seeking to stop the County Commission from taking action are overwhelmingly from outside of DeKalb County:
    - Less than half (49%) live in Georgia
    - Only 6% live in Decatur and Atlanta

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