Brookhaven’s controversial “comfort women” memorial will be moved to another park, the city announced July 5, less than a week after the statue’s unveiling in Blackburn Park II. The decision follows threats of lawsuits by park neighbors over lack of input in the memorial’s placement.
Installed in a small park known as Blackburn Park II, the memorial will be moved to the main Blackburn Park at 3493 Ashford-Dunwoody Road “within the next few weeks,” according to a city press release. The press release does not say when the move will happen; exactly where in the park the memorial will be placed; or why Blackburn Park II was chosen to begin with.
City officials had already decided to move the memorial before its June 30 unveiling, a source previously told the Reporter, though officials at the ceremony made no mention of the move and declined to comment at the time. Joint press releases from the city and the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force, which commissioned the statue, describe the move as due to the memorial deserving a more prominent and accessible place, without mentioning the lawsuit threats. They also say the smaller Blackburn Park II has received increased traffic and visitors since the memorial’s installation.
“The new venue will better accommodate those who wish to visit the statue,” said Mayor John Ernst in one press release. “The primary Blackburn Park offers greater space, more parking and increased accessibility for what will surely become a landmark in our city.”
Those comments were in contrast to ones that Ernst made in a June 14 email to Blackburn Park II neighbors who complained about the memorial’s installation. Ernst said the placement “was largely driven by the number of seniors living in the immediate area, the limited park amenities at Blackburn Park II, and relative flat topography of the park… We did consider other city parks, but Backburn Park II was the clear choice.”
“We applaud the city of Brookhaven’s decision to help bring greater awareness to the Comfort Women tragedy through the more prominent placement of the Young Girl’s Statue for Peace,” said Task Force chair Baik Kyu Kim in a press release, referring to the memorial’s official title.
The statue, depicting a girl seated next to an empty chair, is intended to honor the so-called comfort women who were sexually trafficked by the Japanese military during World War II. It is identical to several similar statues installed around the world as part of a cultural and political dispute between South Korea and Japan over “comfort women” history and responsibility.
An Atlanta version of the memorial began in controversy earlier this year, when the National Center for Civil and Human Rights downtown backed out of a previous acceptance of the statue, which was to be placed on its grounds near Centennial Olympic Park.
Brookhaven then agreed to take the statue, citing its relationship to the city’s battle against today’s sex trafficking. The city also has a significant Korean American population and City Councilmember John Park, an advocate of the memorial, was born in South Korea.
However, there was little public input on the acceptance and placement of the memorial. The City Council publicly voted to accept the statue, but workers had already started installing its base in Blackburn Park II on Blair Circle days earlier.
The city was unaware that a private association pays for that park’s maintenance under an old agreement. One of the association’s member groups, the Reserve at Brookleigh Community Association, threatened to sue over the memorial’s secret placement, saying the statue affects the park’s use and brings a political controversy to the neighborhood.
The memorial has triggered other controversies as well, with Dunwoody state Rep. Tom Taylor objecting to its potential impacts on local Japanese business. And Japan’s consul general in Atlanta sparked international outrage with his comments in a Reporter interview about the “comfort women” being voluntary prostitutes, not sexual slaves.
However, the memorial drew an enthusiastic, applauding crowd of over 100 at its unveiling, and recent visitors have said they appreciated its meaning.
“I love the empty chair beside it that lets you sit there and ponder your own questions and thoughts,” said one visitor, Jeff Beal, on July 2. “I love what it symbolizes and the support we need to give girls and women.
–Dyana Bagby contributed