Confederate monuments were discussed across the metro area Tuesday.
At the State Capitol, a Georgia House subcommittee approved a bill that would strengthen and expand existing protections for monuments. At about the same time, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners approved a plan to add a plaque with historical context next to a Confederate monument in the Decatur Town Square. The county has had trouble finding a new home for the monument and settled on this new plan.
Critics say the General Assembly bill is designed to further protect Confederate monuments. Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, said it was tantamount to a “declaration of war on black Americans.”
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans spoke in favor of the measure, and Rose said their presence “proved the bill’s intention.” The bill’s sponsor Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis disagreed and argued the legislation is about protecting “all monuments.” He said he did not invite the Sons of the Confederate veterans to testify. Mullis has said he is pushing the bill because of vandalism of a Confederate gravesite in his district in North Georgia.
Current Georgia law protects military monuments from being moved, concealed or defaced. That was part of a compromise when Confederate symbolism was removed from the Georgia state flag. This new bill would expand the protection to all monuments and add in a monetary penalty for the crime of defacing one or removing it without replacing it.
“Senate Bill 77 protects all monuments. All of them. Not just one of a specific nature, not one from a particular era,” Mullis said to the subcommittee. “Who knows, Mr. Chairman, what’s going to be offensive 100 years from now, that we take for granted as typical, of those who we honor.”
Democratic Rep. Renitta Shannon tried unsuccessfully to table the bill and said this would leave cities and counties “in a lot of trouble and open them up for litigation.”
Mullis’s bill would not allow a monument of any kind to be altered or moved to someplace like a museum if it wasn’t originally in a museum. Monuments could only be moved to a place of “similar prominence,” per the bill. The legislation would, Mullis said, allow something to be added next to a monument.
And that’s what the DeKalb County Commission approved a few miles away. The Commissioners voted to add a plaque near a 30-foot obelisk honoring the Confederacy in the Decatur Town Square.
County Commissioner Jeff Rader said the plaque would add context about why the monument was built, namely, as a way to glorify the Confederacy and intimidate Black people in public spaces.
“We wanted to make sure that people had actual information about the ‘Lost Cause’ movement, the conditions that led to the Civil War and the conditions in DeKalb County when that object was erected,” he said.
The monument was built in 1908, two years after the Atlanta race riot.
Rader said the move is part of a larger initiative to “recognize our public grounds, particularly the public grounds surrounding the seat of government as a historical repository.”
SB 77 has already passed the Georgia Senate and now goes to the full House Government Affairs committee.