Other communities — in Georgia and beyond — have been roiled by passionate debate and hostile disagreement when considering the fate of Confederate monuments: whether to remove them or maintain them.
Not Newton County. In a remarkably calm and restrained meeting Tuesday, our Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to move the Square’s Confederate monument to protect it from “credible” threats to deface or destroy it. Attendance in the Historic Courthouse meeting was limited, and social distancing was required, as were masks. Because it was a Special Called Meeting, no citizen comments were allowed. The debate was entirely among the commission members. Everyone’s opinion received a fair and respectful hearing.
One commissioner who opposed moving the monument spoke in favor of adding additional statuary and creating a citizen committee to address the question. Another commissioner had concern that the vote to move could be in violation of a state law meant to protect monuments in place. Among those who supported moving the monument were commissioners whose life experience motivated their affirmative vote.
It is a testament to the unique leadership of Chairman Marcello Banes and the proven collegiality of this particular Board of Commissioners that such a momentous decision was accomplished in a deliberate and reasoned manner. Such collegiality is rare, particularly because an issue such as this breeds enormous emotion on both sides of the question. The Newton County BOC was not always known for such professional behavior.
The question is not closed at this point. There are already legal challenges filed that must work their way through the courts. The statue’s fate is in the hands of the court, as one commissioner put it. But for now, our county commission merits praise for the manner in which it has gone about the business of an incredibly sensitive subject.
Barbara M. Morgan