The Decatur City Commission voted unanimously Sept. 18 to support the removal of the monument to Confederacy that has towered over the city’s square for 109 years.
City commissioners were contemplating erecting panels around the 30-foot tall “Lost Cause” obelisk located behind the historic DeKalb County Courthouse to give it context when they did a double take and voted instead to support its removal.
More than 100 people – many of whom called for the removal of the monument, owned by DeKalb County government, and spoke against the panels – packed the council meeting.
The resolution, moved by Commissioner Tony Powers, asks the Georgia General Assembly to amend a state law that currently prevents Confederate and other public monuments from being removed. It calls on state officials to allow county and city governments to make decisions regarding monuments within their jurisdictions.
It also says the Decatur City Commission supports action by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners to remove the Confederate monument in Decatur Square, when authorized, and to seek an alternative location for the monument.
The obelisk was erected in 1908.
Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss first presented commissioners with a $65,000 proposal to design and install a semi-permanent exhibit of interpretive panels beside the obelisk to provide contextual information about the African American experience leading up to and following the Civil War.
Merriss’ proposal, which was based on a quote from consulting firm Lord Cultural Resources, also called for a $40,000 second phase involving extensive public engagement in the design, creation and installation of a permanent exhibit contextualizing the Confederate monument. It was tabled after widespread public opposition to it.
More than 2,300 people have signed a petition demanding removal of the monument and placement of it in a museum. Almost half of those signatories are Decatur residents. A counter petition, asking for the monument to remain, has more than 1,000 signatures.
To press their demands for removing the obelisk, more than 300 people marched through downtown Decatur and staged a rally on Sept. 10.
More than a dozen people at Monday's city commission meeting, including Gerald Griggs, Mario Bembry Jr. and Janel Green, waited for more than 90 minutes to implore commissioners to support removal of the monument.
Griggs, vice president of the Atlanta NAACP, said the Atlanta, DeKalb County, Beacon Hill and Georgia chapters of the NAACP have passed a resolution that all Confederate monuments should be removed from public spaces.
“There needs to be no plaques,” Griggs told Decatur commissioners, “until there’s complete removal of hate in Decatur Square which is the monument.”
Sixteen-year-old Mario, who is a Decatur High School student, said the Confederate monument is a “blatant mockery of my ancestors.”
“It does not deserve to be on a pedestal in Decatur Square,” he said.
Green, a co-founder and executive director of the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, said erecting information panels at the monument lacked merit and was an embarrassment.
“You are reinforcing white supremacy with this plan,” she told commissioners. “You are planning to spend $40,000 to pay white people to tell our community about the history of our African-American community members. We’ll do that for free.”
Green urged the commission to be bold and to become the first government in Georgia to take “decisive action” and have the monument removed from Decatur Square.
“Tell the Gold Dome that Decatur truly is no place for hate,” she said.
Members of Hate Free Decatur, a multicultural group formed in August in response to violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., over Confederate monuments, also spoke at the meeting.
After the meeting Monday, the group applauded the Decatur City Commission for tabling the panel proposal and for supporting the monument’s removal by the county or state.
“Now it is time for the DeKalb County Commission to take action and remove this blight from the face of our community,” said Sara Patenaude, a Hate Free Decatur founder.
Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said the commission was simply trying to acknowledge the community’s wishes.
“Clearly we need to take a step back and figure out a different way,” she said. “A way that we can engage the community.”
Garrett said she talked with DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond Monday afternoon about the Confederate obelisk, and that he promised to get clarification from the county attorney and the state attorney general.
“If the law gives some discretion he would be willing to seek additional options,” she said.