The Week in Confederate Heritage

This week we begin with this article from Brunswick, Georgia. “A monument to Confederate soldiers in Hanover Square came down Tuesday, its future unknown as it was loaded onto a truck and trailer in three pieces. Brunswick Mayor Cosby Johnson released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that the city ‘removed the singular vestige of a bygone and abhorrent era in our nation’s history‘ by following through on the council’s vote to take down the statue last year. ‘Through community debate and engagement on April 7, 2021, the City Commission voted overwhelmingly to remove the statue from our city,’ Johnson said in a statement. ‘With respect to that brave decision and alongside the devoted and powerful people of Brunswick, my administration and this commission executed the will of our citizens in removing the Confederate statue from Hanover Square. Let today stand as a monument to the ever-moving tide that brings us closer to love, equality and understanding.’ Where the statue will be moved to, city officials would not disclose. One city worker said its final destination may be a graveyard of Confederate soldiers in Waynesville. As of Tuesday afternoon, the statue was being stored at the city public works facility. According to a release by the city, the owners of the monument were notified of the city’s plans to remove it. The city said it ‘provided ample opportunity for the owners to work with the city to relocate the monument,’ but that its offer was rejected by the monument’s owners.”

Of course the white supremacist group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans is involved. The article tells us, “Bennie Williams, commander of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the Georgia Supreme Court is scheduled to hear cases from various parties throughout the state whose lawsuits attempting to block the removal of Confederate monuments were thrown out due to lack of legal standing. If the plaintiffs in those cases are found to have legal standing, he believes it could have implications in a lawsuit against the city of Brunswick and could call into question the legality of moving the statue. Two lawsuits that he and others brought against the city were thrown out of court, one in 2021 and another in March of this year. The most recent suit was thrown out due to lack of standing. Not all were upset to see the statue go. One citizen drove by honking and waving in appreciation of the action. Brunswick Commissioner Kendra Rolle was on hand with Johnson to see city employees and contractors load the statue. ‘After two long years, I’m glad to see it go,’ Rolle said. Due to the history behind the statue and the people to whom it was dedicated, Rolle, who is Black, said getting to watch it come down held some personal significance. Laura Khurana was one of the handful of citizens gathered to watch the sight. In 2019, she served on a committee that was assembled to advise the city commission on how to deal with the statue. She was of the opinion it should have been moved. But in a split vote, the committee recommended leaving it in place with interpretive signs and plaques to provide context about the role Black soldiers stationed on St. Simons Island played during the American Civil War. ‘I’m sad it took so long,’ she added. ‘But I’m glad to see it happening.’ “

This article on the same subject tells us, “A Confederate statue has been removed from a Glynn County park where it has stood since 1902. The Confederate monument at Hanover Square — located on public property within Brunswick city limits — was taken down Tuesday. Brunswick Mayor Cosby Johnson released a statement on social media about the removal. ‘This morning our City removed the singular vestige of a bygone and abhorrent era in our Nation’s history. Through community debate and engagement on April 7, 2021, the City Commission voted overwhelming to remove the statue from our City. With respect to that brave decision and alongside the devoted and powerful people of Brunswick, my administration and this commission executed the will of our citizens in removing the confederate statue from Hanover Square,’ the statement reads, in part. Johnson concludes the statement by saying, ‘Let today stand as a monument to the ever-moving tide that brings us closer to love, equality, and understanding.’ The Brunswick News reported that the monument to Confederate soldiers was loaded onto a truck and trailer in three pieces, and as of Tuesday afternoon, it was being stored at the city’s Public Works facility. The monument is privately owned, and the city said it is temporarily storing it until the statue’s owners pick it up. There are mixed feelings from people who live in Brunswick about the removal of the more-than-a-century-old landmark. ‘With it being 2022, it probably should have been removed years ago,’ said resident Jerea West. ‘I don’t think it’s enough just removing the statue.’ ‘It shouldn’t have been removed. It should have been a reminder of the things we’ve done wrong to go ahead and build America,’ resident David Lee said. ‘It’s something that happened and shouldn’t be taken away and tried to be erased from the history books.’ ” That, of course, is a dumb claim. Monuments aren’t history, and moving monuments isn’t erasing anything from history books. That person is clueless.

AJC File Photo

Staying in Georgia, we have this article. “The highest court in Georgia on Thursday heard oral arguments in two cases dealing with the removal of statues honoring the Confederacy. While the justices did not render a decision, the eventual ruling could have statewide effects on other pending lawsuits and in how local governments deal with these monuments. The cases concern a Henry County statue in McDonough Square and a Newton County statue in Covington Square. The lawsuits came after commissioners from both counties have voted to remove the statues. The Sons of Confederate Veterans in their lawsuits argue that taking down the memorials will cause them to ‘suffer injury to (their) rights and dignity,’ according to a court document. Conversation around Confederate imagery has grown not only in the public but also in the legal world — as Georgia law prohibits removing publicly owned historical or military monuments. What differentiates the two cases heard Thursday is that they deal with removal of privately owned monuments from public property. A ruling on this pair could have a long-reaching effect, including in the case of a Confederate monument in Lawrenceville’s downtown square installed in 1993.”

The article continues, “The arguments were not about the merit of honoring those whose action supported the abhorrent practice of slavery, the discussion Thursday was about the plain facts of the case. Each side was given 20 minutes to make their case, and the justices will decide later. Justice Nels Peterson pressed Kyle King, who is representing the Sons, about how an organization could have standing instead of an individual taxpayer. Patrick D. Jaugstetter, the attorney representing the counties, refuted King’s points but also received a grilling from justices. ‘The policy question is one that reasonable people can disagree on,’ King said. ‘ … There’s a much larger context for this particular fight.’ The Henry and Newton statues were erected about half a century after the Civil War ended, during a period when scores of Confederate monuments were built across the South. The push coincided with flourishing Jim Crow laws and the release of the film ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ which helped fuel the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan atop nearby Stone Mountain.  Historians have previously told the AJC that the monument craze was more about immortalizing a warped history of the war and promoting white supremacy than honoring Southern soldiers. The next spike in Confederate monument erection was around the start of the Civil Rights movement that centered on equality for Americans who were Black. These days, about half the populations of Henry and Newton counties identified in the Census as Black or African American.”

Confederate Veterans of Gwinnett Monument, dedicated in 1993 by the white supremacist group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Photo by Pete Corson

Still in Georgia we have this article. “The legal battle over the removal of the Confederate monument from Lawrenceville’s downtown square is developing around the question of who owns the granite slabs that local descendants of Confederate soldiers installed in 1993. State law restricts the removal of publicly owned historical or military monuments — including those that commemorate the Confederacy — and the removal of privately owned monuments from private property. But the statutes say nothing about the removal of privately owned monuments from public property, which Gwinnett County contends occurred last year in Lawrenceville square. The Sons of Confederate Veterans disagree. That group, along with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, paid for the Lawrenceville monument’s installation. The organization sued the county and all five commissioners in February in Gwinnett County Superior Court, arguing the monument is publicly owned. Unlike many other Confederate monuments that have stood for more than a century, documentation of the Lawrenceville monument’s creation only dates back 30 years, but still leaves unclear the question of ownership. ‘It isn’t a situation like when you buy a house, where there’s a deed that changes hands from one person to another,’ said T. Kyle King of Hodges, McEachern & King, the attorney representing the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The organization’s Major William E. Simmons Camp 96, based in Lawrenceville, raised funds for the monument and contracted for its construction and installation. In March 1992, the Gwinnett County Commission voted to allow the organization, and others who made up the Gwinnett County Confederate Monument Committee, to place the monument on the grounds of the historic courthouse. ‘There was a resolution accepting that,’ King said. ‘That was an acceptance of ownership.’ “

The article also says, “In legal filings supporting a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the county said it had accepted the monument’s placement but not ownership of it, and that the Sons of Confederate Veterans ‘further established their ownership of the monument by paying for its repair’ after it was vandalized in 2020. Deputy Gwinnett County Attorney Tuwanda Rush Williams declined to comment through a spokesperson, who cited the county’s policy not to discuss pending litigation. The Lawrenceville monument is made up of granite slabs with carvings of an early Confederate flag, a Confederate soldier, the dates 1861-1865, a quote from Winston Churchill and ‘LEST WE FORGET.’ The county has not disclosed its location since its February 2021 removal. The lawsuit asks for the monument to be reinstated and for the county to pay three times the cost of replacement and any necessary repairs. It also seeks punitive damages, attorney’s fees and court costs. If the court decides the Gwinnett does own the monument, county lawyers argued, commissioners had the right to order its removal under a provision of the law that allows ‘appropriate measures for the preservation, protection and interpretation’ of monuments. Commissioners cited repeated vandalism in their decision to take it down. The county also said the Sons of Confederate Veterans didn’t have standing to sue because they were not harmed by the monument’s removal. Courts in DeKalb, Henry and Newton Counties dismissed similar lawsuits filed by Sons of Confederate Veterans chapters over monument removals, citing a lack of harm and, therefore, standing. But the Gwinnett lawsuit is different because the local chapter was involved in efforts to purchase and place the monument relatively recently, King said. ‘Some groups arguably would have less of a connection,’ King said.”

The article continues, “In court documents, the county accused the organization of trying to ‘have it both ways.’ ‘If they own the monument, (the law) does not apply here, and if they don’t own it, they clearly lack standing to bring this suit for damages,’ Williams said last month in a written reply. The Georgia Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments this month on the issue of standing to sue over the removal of Confederate monuments in McDonough and Covington. King said the outcome will affect the Gwinnett County case — and the state monument law in general. The Lawrenceville monument stood on the same corner where Charles Hale, a Black man, was lynched in 1911. The Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition, which works with the Equal Justice Initiative to honor victims of racial violence, installed a marker on the corner in January to commemorate Hale. The coalition issued a statement opposing the Confederate monument’s restoration, calling Hale ‘a victim of the brutally violent regime of white supremacy the Confederacy revolted to preserve.’ ‘This history must be overcome, not celebrated,’ the organization said.”

Supervisors have voted on how to pay for the monument’s relocation to a cemetery. TRISTAN LOREI /THE FREE LANCE–STAR

This article from King George County in Virginia tells us, “Six months after the King George Board of Supervisors voted to relocate a Confederate monument from its courthouse lawn, county officials approved the paperwork on Tuesday to make the move official. However, the action will end up requiring some public funds, and that’s why Supervisor Cathy Binder was one of two board members who voted against the financial part of the package. After the board made the decision in November to move the monument to a private cemetery—Historyland Memorial Park off U.S. 301—an anonymous donor offered to fund the relocation cost of $38,000. But the person apparently ‘had issues raising that entire amount,’ Supervisor Chairman Jeff Stonehill said Tuesday. As a result, county officials believe the donor will give up to $10,000 and proposed using tourism funds to make up the difference. ‘The only heartburn I have is using public tourism money when it was promised this would all be donated money back in November,’ Binder said. Fellow Supervisor T.C. Collins, who also voted against the financial portion of the move, wanted to stipulate that the amount of tourism money be limited to $31,000, but his motion died for lack of a second. Tourism funds are generated from taxes people pay on meals and lodging, not real estate or personal property taxes, and can only be used for activities that generate tourism or visits to the county.”

The article continues, “The decision came almost two years after representatives from the King George chapter of the NAACP began appearing before the board and asking for the monument’s relocation. President Wayne Bushrod didn’t know the board had made the move official until Wednesday. ‘That is really good news,’ he said. ‘It’s been a long, hard battle, I tell ya.’ … King George’s monument is a 24-foot obelisk, dedicated by the Ladies Memorial Association of King George County in 1869 to pay tribute to those who had served in the Confederacy. It later was moved to the courthouse lawn, and Bushrod and others asked, not for its destruction, but its removal to a more appropriate place. Bushrod regularly reminded the supervisors in the past two years that the monument was an ‘atrocious reminder’ of an unjust period of American history—and that it gave the appearance that people of color would not receive fair treatment inside the courthouse. Others, including the King George Historical Society, stressed it was part of the county’s history and that it memorialized those who had served, not the issue of slavery. After the supervisors made the decision in November to relocate the monument, state law dictated they had to wait at least 30 days to take action. The county had to make the monument available to museums, historical societies or military battlefields within King George that might want it. The county received only one inquiry, but it was from a group outside King George and didn’t include any funding, said County Attorney Kelly Lackey. Meanwhile, David Storke, owner of Historyland, agreed to display the obelisk in the cemetery and to take care of its upkeep.”

The article concludes, “Tourism funds will be used for signs directing visitors along the Civil War Trail to the county’s monument to the Confederacy at Historyland. The relocation work will be done by Stratified, a Washington company that provides removal and location services throughout the Baltimore-D.C. metropolitan area. It was the only contractor to bid on the project. The county will work with Stratified to develop a relocation schedule and ‘definitely do a public-notice effort to get the word out when we do have a firm date,’ said County Administrator Chris Miller. ‘It will be a big deal, I am sure,’ he added. Bushrod agreed. ‘I definitely want to be there to see it,’ Bushrod said. ‘I wouldn’t miss that.’ “

Workers remove the statue from the top of the Confederate monument in downtown Pensacola on Oct. 26, 2020.

Supporters of white supremacy continue to fight back, as this article from Pensacola, Florida, tells us, “Pensacola may face the prospect of having to restore the Confederate monument after a federal appeals court overturned a previous ruling that cleared the way for the city to remove the monument in 2020. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled Monday that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over the case when it ruled the groups that sued the city to block the removal of the monument lacked standing to file a lawsuit. The result of the ruling means the legal battle will have to play out in state court. The Ladies Memorial Association, the Stephen Mallory Camp 1315 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Save Our Southern Heritage Florida Chapter and others sued Pensacola in state court after the City Council voted to remove the monument in July 2020. The city had the case removed to federal court where a federal judge ruled the groups lacked standing to sue the city over the monument. The Ladies Memorial Association and others appealed the ruling. Last year, the court ordered the two parties to enter mediation, which did not go anywhere, and on Monday, a three-judge panel unanimously ruled the case should go back to the state. ‘This case is a topsy-turvey procedural mess,’ Judge Gerald Tjoflat wrote in his unanimous opinion. ‘And, today, we are prevented from joining in the chaos because neither we nor the District Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case.’ City spokesperson Kayce Lagarde told the News Journal the city can’t comment on the issue because of the pending litigation.”

According to the article, “The monument, an 8-foot statue of a Confederate soldier, along with the 50-foot granite pedestal, sat at 602 N. Palafox St. for 129 years. The monument currently remains in storage at the Port of Pensacola. David McCallister, the attorney representing the Ladies Memorial Association and other groups, told the News Journal they were happy about the ruling and would be asking the state court to restore the situation. ‘We certainly will be asking for the status quo ante to be restored, the situation before it got sent to the federal court because the federal court had no jurisdiction,’ McCallister said. ‘It shouldn’t have been doing the things that it did. Of course, the city should not have been doing the things that it did in removing the monument to begin with.’ The case will go back to the federal district court where the judge will have to formally send it back to state court. McCallister said his group would file in state court very soon to seek the restoration of the monument.”

This article from Shenandoah County, Virginia, where overt racism is lashing back, tells us, “A Virginia board is considering restoring the names of two schools that were originally named for Confederate generals but were changed in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. The Shenandoah County School Board voted in 2020 to change Stonewall Jackson High School to Mountain View High School and Ashby-Lee Elementary School to Honey Run Elementary School. But in the two years since, community members — especially alumni — have expressed opposition to the name changes, school board member Cynthia Walsh said. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition to change the names back, Vice Chair Dennis Barlow said at a board meeting, where the issue was discussed at length last week. Walsh is one of three members who were on the board when the name changes were approved. The current, all-white board is made up of six members. Some new board members say they feel the decision to change the names was rushed and that it did not consider the opinion of the community. Barlow — who characterized those who were in favor of changing the names as outsiders who are ‘creepy,’ ‘elitist’ and from ‘the dark side‘ — said the school board’s decision was ‘undemocratic and unfair.’ He added that he regards Jackson as a ‘gallant commander.’ Walsh, who said she does not think the names should be changed back, argued: ‘Most people who vote for elected officials then count on them to do the right thing on their behalf.’ ‘We do have a representative democracy. We don’t have a direct democracy,’ she added.”

The article also says, ” ‘Times have changed. The makeup of our schools has changed,’ Walsh said. ‘And I sincerely believe that revisiting the name change is not what’s best for kids.’ The board decided at the meeting that it would poll constituents about whether they believe the names should be changed back. But the board could not settle on whether to poll the entire area or only the residents of the areas served by the schools in question. Kyle Gutshall, a recent high school graduate who was elected to the board this year, argued: ‘In my opinion if you’re doing it countywide, you might as well throw the students out, because they don’t care.’ But other board members were adamant throughout the night that the decision first has to be what’s right for the students. ‘No. 1 criteria: what is best for kids,’ Andrew Keller said earlier in the meeting. ‘The kids we’re going to teach today and the next 25 years.’ They also didn’t settle on what options would be in the survey, which they mostly agreed should have these questions:

  • Do you want to keep the names?
  • Do you want to restore the original names?

‘I suggested a compromise: adding a third’ option, Walsh said. ‘I did not agree to the name change, but I do not think we should change it back, and that’s where we left it that night, but we didn’t vote on it.’ The next school board meeting is June 9. The board likely won’t vote on the issue then, because it is still hammering out the details of the survey, Walsh said. If the vote is split, the issue is likely to be tabled for a year or until there is a new board, she said. … The system serves about 6,000 students. More than 75 percent of them are white, and about 3 percent are Black, according to the state Education Department. But Walsh said the statistics don’t show the full picture. ‘In one of our elementary schools, there are 10 languages spoken,’ she said. ‘There is diversity.’ “

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