Legal questions loom over Georgia Confederate memorials

- While more than 1,500 people have signed a petition calling for the removal of a Confederate memorial in Decatur, legal questions loom for advocates on whether state law allows local leaders to remove the monument or others across Georgia. 

"Having this monument stand is honoring the confederacy. It is honoring the men and women who fought to preserve slavery," said Sarah Patenaude, a historian who advocates for the removal of the large obelisk monument and relocation into a museum. 

People in around the statue in Decatur Square shared differing views on the issue. 

"Let it be," one woman said, who said the monument's message does not offend her. 

The memorial, built in 1908, was erected the same year as when the Georgia Legislature ratified a constitutional amendment preventing African Americans from voting, according to historians with Georgia State University.  

The property in Decatur Square belongs to DeKalb County; a county spokesperson said officials choose to have no comment on the issue. 

Petitioners plan to bring their concerns before the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners to advocate for its removal and relocation. Advocates also plan to lobby the Decatur City Council to call for its removal. 

Current Georgia law will be examined to determine what can be done to Confederate memorials in Georgia. 

O.C.G.A. 50-3-1 (2) in state law reads:  "No publicly owned monument or memorial erected, constructed, created, or maintained on the public property of this state or its agencies, departments, authorities, or instrumentalities in honor of the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state, the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof shall be relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion; provided, however, that appropriate measures for the preservation, protection, and interpretation of such monuments or memorials shall not be prohibited."

Local state lawmakers are examining the legislation to determine what, if anything, local governments can do in response to public concerns. 

State Sen. Elena Parent of Decatur's District 42 released the following statement: 

"My hope is that the Senate Democratic caucus will file a bill in the 2018 legislative session to change O.C.G.A 50-3-1(b)(2) and allow local officials to determine if Confederate memorials should be moved in their communities. I would sponsor and push that sort of bill.
"Right now, I'm seeking clarification about whether or not the current law allows local governments to add plaques, statues, or other information at monument sites to contextualize the true history of the confederacy and those oppressed under slavery rather than simply memorializing (or praising) it. If possible, contextualization would provide a short-term fix until we can change the current law and allow local officials to take action."
Petitioners plan to hold a gathering in Decatur Square Saturday to call for the removal of the monument.
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