The SPLC joined other advocacy organizations and elected officials today in demanding change to a Georgia state law that prohibits local communities from removing Confederate monuments.
This is the first phase of a broader statewide effort that seeks to empower local communities to determine whether they want to keep Confederate symbols in their public spaces, and – if not – to remove them.
“Although individuals and institutions across the country have made remarkable efforts to stop glorifying the men who fought to divide this nation and maintain slavery, backwards legislation has blocked significant progress in Georgia,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “In order to enact real change, the local community must have the ability to speak freely about the racist legacy of these symbols, and how they are still being used as emblems of white supremacy. These symbols should be understood and placed into their historical context in museums. They should not be displayed without the proper frame of reference in public spaces.”
Four days before the Georgia General Assembly session is set to begin, the SPLC, Georgia and Atlanta NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, Moore’s Ford Movement, and Concerned Black Clergy are leading the fight to remove Confederate symbols and monuments by seeking to activate a united South around racial reconciliation.
The organizations will establish statewide chapters, and are organizing a rally on Saturday, Feb. 2, to strengthen the call for change.
State Sen. Nikema Williams and state Rep. Renitta Shannon supported the campaign, urging the Legislature to grant local governments the power to decide whether to keep or remove monuments in their public spaces.
Currently, there are 1,747 Confederate symbols and 722 monuments in the United States, according to Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy, a special report of the SPLC that catalogs examples of monuments, statues, flags, city, county and school names; and other symbols that honor the Confederacy.
After Virginia and Texas, Georgia has the most Confederate symbols in the country, with at least one in 58 percent of the state’s counties.
Importantly, there is precedent for wanting to remove these symbols in Georgia. In late 2017, the Decatur City Commission voted unanimously to move a 30-foot-tall obelisk from its city square to another location. However, the city commission was unable to move forward because state law prohibits such monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion.”
Similarly, a 2017 petition to remove a Confederate flag from public display in downtown Kennesaw gained thousands of signatures. That city passed a resolution asking state leaders to “allow local municipalities the ability to determine, in their sole discretion and within the jurisdictional limits,” the ability to determine the fate of the Confederate symbol.
Georgia’s House of Representatives and Senate drafted legislation in response, seeking to allow local governments to take action involving monuments in their communities. If passed, the legislation would simply move power back to local control and would grant local governments the ability to make and execute decisions about the placement of Confederate symbols. Organizations that made presentations at today’s press conference will support the bill after it is reintroduced in the 2019 legislative session.
The advocacy organizations and elected officials held a press conference today in front of the Arc of Justice Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.
Photo AP Images/Chattanooga Times Free Press/Robin Rudd