Monuments of hate

“This bill will make a lasting impact on countless Georgians.” -Gov. Kemp 

In 2017, Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach stated that Savannah should explore ways “to expand the story (of the Forsyth Park Confederate) monument tells to be inclusive of all.” Even though two busts of Confederate Generals were approved by the City Council for relocation to the cemetery where the officers are buried, it never happened. Still, it would have been wonderful if our Legislature and Governor would have learned from Mayor DeLoach’s approach.

Instead, with little fanfare, a Monument bill to prevent local governments from moving them (unless it’s to a site of “similar prominence,” excluding museums and cemeteries) has slipped through the Georgia Legislature on a party line vote and been signed by Gov. Kemp. I have no problem with protecting all Monuments (art) from being damaged, another provision in the bill. But as a former GOP local elected official, I do have several other issues with what was done regarding moving them and what it says about our state. Georgia joins the ignominious ranks of six other states which are intent on preserving the false “Lost Cause” narrative of the Civil War, romanticizing it as a “state’s rights” battle while ignoring the immense pain that it and the institution of slavery caused.

Of course, this bill doesn’t say anything about the War of Northern Aggression, the Glorious Confederacy, Rhett Butler or Gone with the Wind. But everyone on both sides of the issue knows why it was passed, to prevent more progressive cities and counties from moving any of Georgia’s 174 Confederate Monuments, period. 

The bill’s author, Rep. Mullis, represents rural lily-white Catoosa, Dade, Chattooga and Walker counties and has stated the bill’s intent to “preserve our history” and ensure that the Monuments are not “unduly disrespected or hidden.”Yes, aggrieved Brothers and Sisters of the noble Confederacy, the old South will rise again!

Back in the world of reality, we have a politically split state that soon will be purple rather than red. Kemp was only elected by a 55,000-vote majority, even after his extensive and controversial voter suppression efforts as Sec. of State. Georgia’s major cities have large minority populations and Savanah, Macon, Columbus and Augusta all went for Stacey Abrams and the Democrats. So did almost every large county in the Atlanta area: Cobb (54%); Fulton (72%); Douglas (60%); Clayton (88%); Henry (57%); Rockdale (68%); Newton (54%) and Gwinnett (57%).

This GOP bill, pushed by rural legislators, tells Atlanta and Georgia’s other cities what not to do. A Democratic amendment providing for local control was defeated on a party line vote in a House committee. Strange for a party that supposedly believes in local government power. How would these legislators feel if a future Democratic legislature passed a law requiring removal of all Confederate Monuments, removing local authority?

As one black legislator (Rep Karen Bennet) stated, these monuments “continue to inflame and divide our state.” It’s no accident that the Stone Mountain Monument was opened to the public on April 14, 1965…100 years after Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. It’s little wonder that the KKK makes an annual pilgrimage to burn crosses there.

Why are we intent on glorifying traitors to our nation? Why are we trying to protect a clearly incorrect version of which side was right and wrong in that war? Where are accurate monuments to the slaves who built the Confederacy’s economy through their forced labor? Where are the monuments illustrating that black people were treated as cattle and their families broken up and destroyed for profit?

Governor Kemp, you are correct that the bill will make a lasting impact. However, that impact is to declare to the nation and the world that our state is still controlled by politicians who care nothing about the pain that these Monuments continue to cause our black citizens. In 2019, it’s disgusting that these small-town politicos in our Capital remain so ignorant of our nation’s history that they are proud of traitors to the USA. Where are the Jimmy Carters of Georgia when we need them?

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Image Credit: The equestrian statue of General John Brown Gordon – Atlanta - Downtown: Georgia Capitol Grounds was taken by Wally Gobetz via flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.

Jack Bernard

Jack Bernard

Jack A Bernard is a retired SVP with a national healthcare corporation. He was Chair of the Jasper County, Ga Board of Commissioners and Republican Party. He was also on the Board of Health for Jasper County and is currently on the Fayette County BOH. Bernard has over 100 columns published annually, primarily in the South.