The city of Brookhaven on Sept. 19 relocated the controversial “comfort women” memorial statue to Blackburn Park, nearly three months after it was unveiled in what the city calls Blackburn Park II.
The relocation of the statue to the main Blackburn Park, located at 3493 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, followed threats of lawsuits by Blackburn Park II neighbors over lack of input in the memorial’s placement.
City officials had already decided to move the memorial before its June 30 unveiling, though officials at the ceremony made no mention of the move and declined to comment at the time. Joint press releases on July 5 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 said the smaller Blackburn Park II has received increased traffic and visitors since the memorial’s installation.
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.
The memorial 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.
At City Council meetings since the unveiling, several people have spoken out during public comment against the statue being located in Brookhaven.
At the Aug. 8 meeting, for example, Stephen Haverfield, special program coordinator at the Japan-America Society of Georgia in Buckhead near the Brookhaven border, said placing the statue in Blackburn Park, where the city holds its annual Cherry Blossom Festival, could harm Japanese relations.
The Japanese consul general attended this year’s festival and cherry blossom trees are a symbol as a symbol of U.S.-Japanese friendship, according to the former Japanese consul general.
“It’s divisive,” Haverfield said of the statue. “This replica does not need to be center piece of future Cherry Blossom Festivals.”
Haverfield also said the “comfort women” memorial in Brookhaven is a replica of the original statue that is located in South Korea across the street from the Japanese Embassy where, he said, anti-Japanese people people protest every week.
The memorial drew an enthusiastic, applauding crowd of over 100 at its unveiling.
John Ruch contributed.