Ga. leader fights to keep Civil War statues at Capitol

ATLANTA, Ga. — State Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, is so worried there are rumblings to remove Civil War statues, monuments and markers from the State Capitol and across Georgia, that he's pushing a law to prevent it.

“I don’t want us to be looking at revisionist history in order to justify the movement of monuments,” said Benton.

The statues of Civil War-era Gov. Joseph Brown and Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon, also a Georgia governor and senator, stand on the Capitol grounds alongside controversial political figures like former Gov. Eugene Talmadge.

Benton also worries there could be efforts to remove the world’s largest carving at Stone Mountain, which depict Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson along with Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

“Stone Mountain has a lot to do with it,” said Benton.  “That’s one of the greatest carvings that’s ever been, and we would have people who would go in there and dynamite it simply because it has the likenesses of Lee, Davis and Jackson.”

Benton tried to pass a similar bill last year, but it failed in committee.  He said some of the bill's supporters grew concerned when Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the removal of the Tom Watson statue from the front of the Capitol, even though the governor insisted it was done for safety reasons as there repairs scheduled for the Capitol steps.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, doesn't like the bill but said he will neither fight it nor work to remove the statues.  He believes the bill is really just an opportunity for Benton and the bill's supporters to energize their political base.  But he does question the bill's timing.

“It’s interesting now that there’s a conversation going on about including a more diverse set of people on the Capitol grounds, including Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.), that we have this discussion about not moving anything, anytime, anywhere.”

The bill passed out of the State Monuments Committee Wednesday afternoon, but still must pass through one other committee before it can reach the floor of the House for a vote.