At an informal community meeting on Aug. 19, nearly 75 residents met to discuss what should be done with the Confederate “Lost Cause” monument that sits on the Decatur Square. The majority agreed the monument should be moved from behind the historic DeKalb County Courthouse and relocated to a space where it could be preserved and interpreted in a modern context.
The recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA has triggered a nationwide conversation about what to do with monuments that glorify the South’s loss of the Civil War, which was fought to maintain slavery.
The Decatur monument was erected in 1908 to, ostensibly, commemorate the soldiers, but is now widely regarded as relic of the Jim Crow-era and a reminder of white supremacy.
Some at the meeting were concerned about erasing history, but local historians rejected the idea.
Dr. Julia Gaffield, a Decatur resident and assistant professor in the Department of History at Georgia State University, said: “By removing this monument, we are not erasing history; we are publicly condemning the celebration of slavery and racism and the terror tactics used to maintain a system of white supremacy long after Emancipation. These were the reasons why it was erected. These motives should never have had a place in our society and the urgency of our contemporary moment demands that we act immediately.”
Dr. Joe Crespino, Jimmy Carter Professor of American History at Emory University, said: “This interpretation [put forth on the monument] of the Civil War has been thoroughly discredited by modern scholarship….As a historian, I understand how this monument is an important artifact of history that should be preserved so that future generations might learn of the conflicts that have divided American citizens. However, given the diversity of Decatur today, and the values that our community holds, it is not appropriate that this monument remain in its current location.”
The group of residents said they plan to bring their case before the Decatur City Commission and the DeKalb County Commission at their scheduled meetings this week.
As Decatur grapples with the future of the “Lost Cause” monument, the City of Atlanta is also reviewing memorials and street names linked to the Confederacy.
Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement on Aug. 18 the city “will assemble a group of advisors to recommend a process for our community to determine the future of each street name and marker. We want to ensure that we approach this endeavor in a thoughtful matter. In the coming weeks, we will share more information about how concerned residents can support this effort.”
The Buckhead-based Atlanta History Center has also released a guide to interpreting the Confederate monuments, but indicating that the status quo is not an option for leaving the monuments in place.