Photo Credit: Nicole Adamson
The Confederate memorial on Broad Street.
On the heels of an Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation lecture on the history and context of Confederate monuments, the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement is asking the ACC Commission to move the Broad Street memorial to dead Confederates and “add another monument—one that represents the future of Athens.” They asked Mayor Nancy Denson to put the issue on the agenda for the commission’s Tuesday, Oct. 3 meeting. They’re also holding a second meeting to discuss the memorial’s fate on Oct. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the ACC Library.
AADM co-founders Knowa and Mokah Johnson wrote an open letter to the mayor and commissioners last week:
To truly create a more welcoming, respectful, and inclusive community, we must now cease to uplift those who have, in the past, or do now, seek to oppress or minimize the rights or humanity of any people in our community.
We can no longer whitewash history nor fail to acknowledge the symbols in our city that continue to promote racism. The Civil War was America’s bloodiest war. Over 620,000 people died in that conflict. The central issue of the war was whether or not one human being had THE RIGHT TO OWN ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. Yet history has been twisted to hide that ugly fact, particularly here in the South.
One has but to read the Declaration of the Causes for Georgia’s seceding from the Union, from 1861 - Or take a short walk to the the University of Georgia archives which will reveal an historical handwritten document on display that confirms the true reason for the Civil War: the slavery of a race of people.
With great respect, we request that the Mayor and Commission consider the following:
Move the Soldiers Confederate Monument on Broad Street to another location
Add another monument that tells the full story - one that represents the future of Athens
Add this issue to Tuesday Oct 3rd agenda for public input
We believe that your actions and leadership will truly speak volumes to the citizens of Athens and create hope for the underprivileged and that our government's willingness to move in the right direction might be a new beginning for our community.
Systemic discrimination, education inequality, poverty, and mass incarceration plague the Black Community of Athens Clarke County. By taking action and refusing to uphold symbolism that lauds white supremacy in our community, we can show that we do not fear the truth, but embrace it.
We may not be able to change the past, but together we can build hope for the future and a more welcoming community for all.
In the meantime, we encourage local citizens to provide feedback by visiting AADM website. Should the monument stay or should it be removed?
Both of them attended the Sept. 20 ACHF lecture, which featured UGA history professor Akela Reason. Since the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, VA last month, protesters have torn down a Confederate monument in Durham, NC, and the city of Baltimore removed its monuments in the dead of night, sparking a similar debate in Athens.
The monument craze started in the 1890s and lasted until the 1920s, at which point many people claimed to be suffering from “monument fatigue,” Reason said. There are about 1,000 Confederate monuments, including about 140 in Georgia; some are in the North and some in states that didn’t even exist during the Civil War, she said. Often funded by elites with little to no public input, many monuments were built by local stonecutters—with African-American laborers forced to help—but they were so common that statues of soldiers could even be ordered from catalogs.
The dates coincide with the popularity of the “Lost Cause,” a now-discredited version of history holding that Southerners fought honorably for states’ rights and to defend their homes against Northern aggression, rather than to continue slavery. “The South in this period was really dominated by the Lost Cause,” Reason said. “This was a revision. It was a way to survive defeat.” But Southern states’ secession documents “emphatically” list slavery as the cause for rebellion. Meanwhile, Northerners looked the other way and ignored the South’s Jim Crow laws after Reconstruction, she said.
At the time, Athens was every bit as racist as any other Southern city. Reason showed a newspaper ad from 1911 for the Black Mammy Memorial Institute, a proposed school in Athens to teach African Americans to be better servants, because whites believed standards had fallen since slavery ended.
The Athens obelisk was erected in 1871, ostensibly by the Athens Ladies’ Memorial Association, but probably secretly funded by wealthy men, because during Reconstruction it would have been easier for women to build a memorial mourning the dead than for men to build one in defiance. The association said their goal was a monument “as white and spotless as the cause for which they [Confederate soldiers] died was pure and holy.”
Reason said each monument should be looked at individually. Options include leaving them alone, removing them, contextualizing them or moving them to another location. Each has its drawbacks. As far as moving them, some are too big, and museums don’t want them anyway, Reason said. She questioned whether African Americans would want to look at them in a cemetery any more than in a park. Gathering them together in one place, as some have suggested, could inadvertently create “a neo-Nazi theme park.” Efforts to add context with interpretive signs or new monuments might be overshadowed by the original.
Complicating matters, a state law prohibits removing or altering a monument on state property—Broad Street is also a state highway—but Reason thinks it might be legal to move the Athens monument for preservation purposes. Years of vibrations from cars passing by caused damage that was repaired in 2014. And there's no particular reason for it to be in a median on Broad Street, Reason said, noting that it's been moved several times before.
The ACHF is not taking sides in the debate. “Our goal is to create an environment where open, respectful dialogue is possible,” trustee Kimberly Davis said.
But for Reason, the memorial should come down or be moved to a less prominent location. “Personally, I don’t think the Athens monument should be at the center of Athens,” she said. “I don’t think we’re that community.”