ATLANTA — More than four dozen Confederate statues have come down in the United States since May.
That includes long-standing monuments in Decatur, McDonough and Douglasville.
The debate over their removal has never been more heated. And their future in Georgia has never been more uncertain.
“I think, at this point, they’re equivalent to being radioactive,” said Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center.
He told Channel 2′s Matt Johnson that in the beginning, the statues represented one thing and later came to represent something else.
“They started working on them in 1869, finished in 1873. It’s about death and mourning in a cemetery,” Hale said. “The vast majority of them were actually erected between 1890 and 1925. And that was a period of Jim Crow segregation. A lot of it was about white supremacy and who’s in charge.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported it has tracked 114 Confederate monuments still standing in Georgia. That’s the most in the country by its count.
They’re protected by state law, though counties have found ways to bypass them through nuisance orders and pledges not to destroy them.
“They’re not just Confederate veterans, they’re American veterans,” said Alfred Britt, former commanding officer of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in McDonough. “It makes me sad that they’re treating veterans like that.”
Britt told Johnson that he supports a lawsuit against Henry County that the Georgia Minutemen, LLC, filed last week.
In July, county commissioners voted to remove a monument in the city square and move it to a place that will be determined later.
“We’re just disgracing dead American soldiers. And this is a time, brilliant in history, that we should be proud of them,” Britt said.
Since the mass shooting in Charleston in 2015 that left nine people dead, 111 monuments have been either removed or relocated across the country.
The SPLC stated 1,800 Confederate symbols and monuments still stand on public property.
“I don’t think it will ever not be controversial, in part because what we’re talking about is the third rail in American history – race,” Stan Deacon, chief historian at the Georgia Historical Society.
Stan Deaton is the senior historian at the Georgia Historical Society.
He said the counties with statues still standing should decide what’s best for the community.
“No one, I think, really wants to see these things destroyed outright. So I think it’s a difficult conversation to have,” Deaton said.
For Dontaye Carter, he’s worked with activists to get a Confederate statue removed in Decatur.
“It’s disrespectful. It’s not inclusive,” Carter said. “It represents a time where we were kidnapped, we were brought to this country, we were trafficked for our labor, our sex, our entertainment.”
He said recent protests about racial injustice have sparked a conversation, but he said a conversation isn’t enough.
“Until you truly address these things, where are we going? Where are we headed?” Carter said.
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