The design of a new sign that will give historical context to a Buckhead monument that honors Confederate Civil War soldiers has been revealed by the Atlanta History Center.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it is one of four Confederate monuments – including prominent ones in Piedmont Park and Oakland Cemetery – that will receive the signs as soon as next week. The signs are part of a city commission that reviewed modern treatment of such monuments amid controversy about their glorification of an army that fought to defend slavery and their origins in the era of racial segregation and Jim Crow laws.
The Buckhead monument stands on a median in Peachtree Battle Avenue near E. Rivers Elementary School. Installed in 1935, it pays tribute to the “American valor” of troops on both sides of the Civil War and veterans of other wars. As the street name indicates, the monument stands near a major front in the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta.
The new sign is a modest green plaque with white lettering. The sign offers historical background about the monument and concludes by criticizing its message.
“This inscription equates the valor of American Revolution veterans with those who fought to dissolve the United States by establishing the Confederate States of America,” the new sign says. “It also describes the United States after the Civil War as a perfected nation. This ignores the segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans and others that still existed in 1935.”
An illustration also provided by the History Center shows the new sign installed to the left of the monument.
The contextualization signs are partly a response to a state law that restricts moving monuments on public land, said City Councilmember Natalyn Archibong, one of three councilmembers who are overseeing the implementation of the advisory committee’s recommendations.
“State law prohibits the removal of such monuments, so it is our hope that contextualization will serve as a conversation-starter around the importance of establishing an accurate historical record, while ensuring that we remain sensitive to our city’s strong commitment to inclusion and diversity,” Archibong said in an email. “We do not want to rewrite history or to provide excuses. Rather, our goal is to provide historically accurate messaging, in a way that empowers our citizens to be informed as well as to feel valued and respected.”
The History Center, located at 130 West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead, was involved in producing the signs for the various monuments, and Sheffield Hale, its president and CEO, co-chaired the city review commission. He is a longtime advocate for such contextualization of existing Confederate monuments.
Hale said the signage for the monuments ties into the research for the History Center’s recent recontextualization of its own exhibit of the renovated Cyclorama painting of the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta. He said that exhibit includes addressing the “Lost Cause” myth that downplays the role of slavery as a cause for the Civil War and the post-war “Reconciliation” period when Northern and Southern groups emphasized national unity while allowing segregation and related racist laws.
“In the Cyclorama exhibition, we discuss how we remember the Civil War and why that is,” Hale said in a written statement. “One story we talk about is the Reconciliation narrative, which essentially claimed that the country was united and perfect after the war, but completely ignored the millions of Americans unable to exercise basic rights under Jim Crow segregation laws. The Peachtree Battle Avenue monument is a Reconciliation monument, so the scholarship from the Cyclorama exhibit directly informed our research.”
At least one other Confederate monument exists in Buckhead. It was erected in 1944 on the grounds of Piedmont Hospital and is now in storage during a construction project. That monument will not get one of the contextual signs because it is on private property, according to History Center spokesperson Howard Pousner.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from City Councilmember Natalyn Archibong.