Confederate statues? They ought to be museum pieces.
That was the opinion of a nearly 44 percent plurality of respondents to our recent 1Q.com survey of residents in areas served by Reporter Newspapers and INtown Atlanta.
The 200 respondents to the recent cellphone survey were asked to choose from among five possible answers setting forth options for what public officials in metro Atlanta should do with the Confederate monuments that now stand on public land. They were also asked what message Civil War monuments should convey.
About 16.5 percent of the respondents said the statues should remain just the way they are. About 12 percent said they should be scrapped altogether, while about the same number thought should be left in place with interpretative signs placed nearby to provide context about slavery or racist Jim Crow laws. Another 12 percent said monuments to leaders of the Civil Rights movement should be placed near the Civil War statues.
“The monuments should merely be to acknowledge [and] remember a historical period, but not to celebrate a movement that tried to destroy our union and continue the abhorrence of slavery,” wrote a 62-year-old Sandy Springs man who thought the statues should be moved to museums.
A 20-year-old Brookhaven woman agreed. “Our history is our history. We should not glorify it. However, we do need to acknowledge it in order to learn from it and grow,” she wrote.
Monuments to Confederate leaders that stand in public places have stirred disputes recently from New Orleans, where several statues were removed, to Charlottesville, Va., where a protest in support of keeping a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee led to violence and a death. In Atlanta, city officials say they will put together a group of advisors to study and make recommendations on what to do with public Confederate statues and street names.
“I don’t believe we have a time in history where the losing side has been immortalized in such a fashion,” wrote a 37-year-old Atlanta woman who said the monuments should be removed.
“While we need to recognize that this chapter in our history existed, we should do so in a way that does not insult any segment of our population,” she wrote. “Don’t focus on the individuals, but more that a battle happened, and the outcome. Something symbolizing that American lives were lost, but not creating heroes out of fallen leaders that do not encompass today’s ideology.”
A 40-year-old Atlanta man who agreed the monuments should be scrapped said they sent the wrong message. “It should convey a message of building America to make it great, not a constant reminder of oppression,” he wrote.
And a 48-year-old Atlanta woman who said the monuments should be removed said the message should be simple: “The South was defeated.”
The results had some political divisions. Moving the monuments to museums was by far the top choice of Democrats and independents. Republicans’ responses were less uniform, with a 36 percent plurality preferring to keep the monuments unchanged. Of 53 Republican respondents, none chose “take them down.”
The overwhelming majority of respondents – about 86 percent – were white. About 8 percent were African-American. The museum move was the top choice of white respondents, about 43 percent of them. Scrapping the monuments was the top choice – about 44 percent — among African-American respondents.
A 35-year-old African-American Atlanta man who thought the monuments should be removed said they hinder efforts to resolve old wounds. “Things need to change for us to move forward,” he wrote.
But others saw the statues as a link to the past. “These monuments are a part of our history in the city of Atlanta,” wrote a 24-year-old white Atlanta woman who thought they should be left alone. “Why would you take down a piece of history? They don’t represent what we believe now. They represent what they believed then. They remind us that we our lucky to live in this day and age and they teach children about the past. We can’t just erase history.”
“Never forget your past … or you will be doomed to repeat it,” a 38-year-old DeKalb County man wrote. “What is now was not what was back then, and what was back then is not what is now. Today, we have no concept of what was back then.”
But what should be remembered, and how? The questions aren’t easy. As a 33-year-old Atlanta man who thought the statues should become museum pieces noted, “History is complex.”
Here’s what some other respondents had to say about the messages of Civil War monuments:
“They should convey a message of ‘No More!’ No more should there come or be a time where we can’t unite as the human race!”
–58-year-old Brookhaven woman
“The Civil War happened and there was a lot of pride in the South. You cannot erase history by taking down monuments. The Confederate soldiers were a proud group of men and should be honored.”
–56-year-old Buckhead woman
“General Lee is a difficult one. Instead of waging guerrilla warfare, he led the South to peaceful concession with the North and aided in the reconciliation and unity of the country. While the early ‘cause’ and motivations were unjust, he symbolized a 180-degree change in attitude that many racists today should follow.”
–49-year-old Sandy Springs man
“Respect for the Union. Mercy, but not reverence, for the Confederates.”
–53-year-old Atlanta man
“Civil War monuments should be about marking transitions and remembering what happens when we can’t find peaceful solutions. People who attempt to violently remove them are exactly why we need them.”
–a 35-year-old Brookhaven man
“The monument should convey the reason why South and North fought. The Civil War was not only about independence, but it was about slavery, and slavery is a dark and shameful part of U.S. history. This country was built on slavery and the monuments are there to remind us of the dark past.”
–37-year-old Atlanta woman
“They fought for a cause they believed in.”
–46-year-old Buckhead man
“Despite slavery, African-Americans are more than just slaves. They are a great example of what it means to rise above all obstacles and challenges in life. They are WARRIORS!!!”
–41-year-old Sandy Springs woman
“It should convey that we are all equal. That we are to treat each other with kindness and love. An equal standard and acceptance. That no one is above the other. It should pay respect to those who have dealt with a lack of civil rights and recognize the damage it has done to them and our society. We will not stand for inequality. The Lord claims equality over us and it is our responsibility to claim that for one another.”
–23-year-old Atlanta woman
1Q is an Atlanta-based start-up that sends questions and surveys to a cellphone via app or text messages. Respondents are paid 50 cents per answer, through PayPal, for sharing their opinions. Payments may also be donated directly to charity. Sign up to be included in our local community polls at 1Q.com/reporter or by texting “REPORTER” to 86312.