CONYERS — In the midst of protests following the May killing of George Floyd, a number of monuments, memorials and statues across the United States, many of them related to the Civil War, have been vandalized or removed, legally or illegally, and the push is on to remove more.
House Bill 1212, currently in the Georgia General Assembly, would ban Confederate monuments from public property except in Civil War battlefields and museums. State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, said removing the monuments will allow the country to heal from a painful past.
Opponents of the Confederate statue in the Square park in Covington have been pushing for its removal since 2017. That effort got a boost on June 3 from a speaker at a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration on the Square.
Tyler Still encouraged demonstrators to express their feelings about the statue and to work to make a change in the laws that protect those monuments. Still said the Confederate cemetery would be a more fitting location for the statue where it would be honored as a piece of history.
“Earlier today I heard the phrase OneNewton, and I do believe that we are OneNewton,” said Still. “But as that statue stands, that does not reflect OneNewton. That says that Black people are not welcome here and that we honor people who oppressed us. I don’t believe that we do… that statue has been there 114 years telling us Black people that we aren’t welcome in the center of our town. The Square is sacred to our entire community, and while that stands there it is a disgrace.”
And in Rockdale County, criminal defense attorney Gary Washington promoted removing the Confederate monument in front of the county courthouse on Main Street at meetings of the Conyers City Council and the Rockdale Board of Commissioners.
At the Conyers meeting on June 17, council member Cleveland Stroud agreed with Washington.
“It’s bothered me for many, many years,” Stroud said. “I can’t see anything positive about the Civil War, except that my people were freed... It’s a part of our history, but we should not glorify it.”
Mayor Vince Evans said any decision concerning the monument rests with Rockdale County government since the monument is on county property, but that the council would discuss the issue in the future.
At the Board of Commissioners meeting on June 23, Washington said while all Americans, Black and white, share the same history and heritage of the Civil War and the Confederate monuments, the Rockdale statue “with the two engraved rebel flags, and the flag symbolizing white supremacy, is repugnant to the principle of equal justice under the law.”
Washington acknowledged that there are currently laws in place that make removal of the statue difficult, but he urged the BOC to consider adopting a resolution indicating its position on the issue.
Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. said he has received a good number of emails, texts messages and phone calls from residents, both Black and white, who are interested in the removal of the monument, but said the county “will follow the letter of the law to do things the way they should be done,” and they “started some time ago looking at alternative locations to properly place this monument.”
Nesbitt added that Rockdale is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a county in 2020 and wants to include removal of the statue in it in a positive manner.
“Whereas the removal of a lot of these monuments has been such a negative thing in the local news, as we move in that direction, we want to incorporate it and make it a part of the history and transition of time,” Nesbitt said. “So we’re taking a different approach. We want to do it in a different manner where it doesn’t seem so negative.”
Commissioner Sherri Washington (no relation to Gary Washington) said one of the first things she asked when she took office four years ago was what were they going to do about the monument.
“At that time the question wasn’t well heard or well received, but now we’re in these times,” Washington said. “We have a couple of ideas of how we would like to proceed with the removal of the monument and commemorate all of our history. I don’t necessarily believe that removing all of history that we deem negative is in our best interests, but we can definitely do something that shows what we see when we see those negative images.”