CONYERS — Two area students are spearheading a movement to have the Confederate statue removed from the grounds of the Rockdale County Courthouse.
Sundiata Washington and Imani Williams, both graduates of the Rockdale County Magnet School for Science and Technology, have organized a demonstration to take place Thursday at 4 p.m. to encourage the Board of Commissioners to bring down the statue.
Washington and Williams have started an online petition calling for the statue’s removal at http://chng.it/RfxvFdp7zr. As of Tuesday morning, the petition had more than 1,000 signatures.
On the petition page, Williams wrote that it is time for the community to demand that the statue come down.
“Taking down this monument isn’t only for us but also for each and every person who was enslaved and tortured,” Williams wrote. “For 400 plus years, African-Americans have been undervalued, underestimated, and marginalized. I ask that you take a stand with me to let our Board of Commissioners know that Black Lives Matter.”
Washington, who is a rising junior at Tuskegee University and the 2016 Youth of the Year at the A.R. “Gus” Barksdale Boys & Girls Club, said he and Williams expect a “decent turnout” for the demonstration.
“The plan is to meet at the back of the courthouse in the parking lot (off Milstead Avenue) so everybody will have a place to park and walk to the front of the courthouse where we will protest,” said Washington.
He emphasized that the goal is to have a peaceful protest. “Our plan is not to tear it down,” he said.
In a letter to the Citizen, Washington, who is the son of Rockdale Tax Commissioner Tisa Smart Washington, wrote that the statue, erected in 1913, no longer represents the Rockdale County community.
“Today the monument acts as a symbol of racism and hate, which is not reflective of the Rockdale County community,” he wrote. “In light of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many other names, many of these statues have been removed by local officials or forcefully torn down by protestors. The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners have been contacted about the monument but have yet to take any action. This is our community, and we must come together to demand that this statue is removed. The removal of this statue will bring us one step closer to healing as a community.”
Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. said last week he has received a number of emails, text 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 the observance 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.”
Although Thursday’s demonstration will technically take place on county-owned property, David Spann, assistant city manager for Conyers, said the city police department will provide security as needed.