History panel discusses significance of Decatur Confederate monument

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A DeKalb County Commissioner and community groups that have publicly expressed their desire to remove a Confederate monument from downtown Decatur hosted a panel on the memorial's history Monday evening.

Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, who filed a resolution last week to remove the monument, partnered with Hate Free Decatur, the Beacon Hill NAACP, and other organizations to put on the event at the Maloof Auditorium. 

Panelists included Dr. Joseph Crespino, an Emory University history professor, Dr. Maurice Hobson, a Georgia State University African-American studies professor, Dr. Keri Leigh Merritt, a historian and writer, Dr. Robin Morris, an assistant history professor at Agnes Scott College, and Dr. Kurt Young, an associate professor of African American politics and other subjects at Clark Atlanta University.

All of the panelists agreed that the Confederate monument has a deeper history than it may appear on the surface because it was erected in 1908, just two years after the Atlanta Race Riots. 

"I would argue it's not actually a Confederate monument; it's a monument to white supremacy and the location of it right in front of the courthouse is no accident," explained Dr. Morris.  "It was supposed to be there as a warning to any black man trying to go into the courthouse to the registrar of voters to say, 'No, you are not going to be allowed to vote.'"

Many believe the monument should stay put because of the history it represents, but others think it should be placed in a Confederate cemetery or somewhere where it can be viewed with more context, not on public property.

"This monument was not paid for by Decatur.  It was not paid for by DeKalb County.  It was paid for by donations from white supremacists," said Dr. Merritt.

The memorial is on the calendar for discussion at Tuesday's DeKalb County Commission meeting, however, questions about whether the county has the authority to decide whether the monument stays or goes will likely delay any vote until next month at the earliest.