Bookman: Confederate monuments in high-profile places are an insult

Our columnist Jay Bookman writes that Georgia's confederate monuments, like this one outside the Appling County courthouse, were not merely erected to honor those who fought and killed to preserve slavery. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

For well over a century, a tall stone obelisk has stood unchallenged as a monument to white supremacy in the city square in Decatur, Georgia. But no longer.

The monument – erected in 1908 – still stands where it has always stood. The letters “C.S.A,” for Confederate States of America, are still carved in its base, and a 232-word inscription still attempts to justify secession and the Civil War as acts that were driven by lofty principle.

That inscription celebrates those who fought for the Confederacy as “a covenant-keeping race who held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the republic.”

“These men held that the states made the union, that the Constitution is the evidence of the covenant, that the people of the State are subject to no power except as they have agreed, that free convention binds the parties to it, that there is sanctity in oaths and obligations in contracts, and in defense of these principles they mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor,” it continues.

While the obelisk contains no mention of slavery, those whom the obelisk attempts to honor were more honest in their purpose. Georgia’s declaration of secession in 1861 makes clear that its primary purpose was the protection of  “African slavery;” the words “slave” or “slavery” appear 35 times in that document. In other words, the words on the obelisk are a whitewash, an attempt to pretty up one of the ugliest purposes to which mankind has ever gone to war.

Our columnist writes that “lost cause” statues like this one in front of Jenkins County’s historic courthouse these were a way to assert white dominance. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

But the Decatur obelisk, like the statues at the Appling and Jenkins county courthouses, and many, many similar monuments around Georgia and the South, had another purpose as well. In 1908, the year the obelisk was erected, the Georgia Legislature adopted literacy tests as a means to deny the vote to black people; it also adopted a law allowing only white Georgians to vote in Democratic Party primaries, then the dominant power in the state. Every remnant of federal-imposed equality for black Americans was being removed, beginning with the right to vote.

Two years earlier, in 1906, a riot by white men in neighboring Atlanta had killed at least 25 black people, and by some counts as many as 100. The victims were shot, beaten, stabbed and hung from lamp posts, all in an effort to put a rising black community back in its place. A short seven years after the obelisk was commemorated, the Ku Klux Klan was reborn in a midnight ceremony at the top of Stone Mountain, roughly 10 miles to the east of Decatur.

In short, these were not merely monuments to those who had fought and killed to preserve slavery. They were celebrating the reassertion of white dominance. They were a way of telling the world that white Southerners may have lost the war, but in peace they had conquered.

For many Georgia communities, including Decatur and Atlanta, the continued presence of white-supremacy monuments in high-profile places is an insult, but it is an insult they have to accept. In 2001, the Georgia Legislature passed a law forbidding local communities from removing such monuments.

Like the monuments themselves, that law was passed as a reminder of who remains in charge in this state, of who gets to decide such things, and more importantly who does not.

In 2019, Georgia Republicans passed a law increasing punishments for defacing, removing or “abusing contemptuously” such monuments. Because Decatur and other local governments had considered putting such monuments into museums, the new law explicitly forbids that option. The initial version of that law, introduced by Sen. Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican, would also have banned any attempt to “interpret” such monuments for a modern audience.

In Decatur, a new historical marker provides contextual interpretation of the “lost cause” obelisk outside the DeKalb County Courthouse. Jay Bookman/Georgia Recorder

In Decatur, a new historical marker provides just such an interpretation of the obelisk, and illustrates why Mullis wanted the practice banned. It reads in part:

 “Located in a prominent place, its presence bolstered white supremacy and faulty history, suggesting that the cause for the Civil War rested on Southern honor and states rights rhetoric. Instead of its real catalyst, African American slavery. This monument and similar ones also were created to intimidate African Americans and limit their full participation in the social and political life of their community.”

That’s the truth, no matter how hard some people today try to hide or disguise it.

Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.

56 COMMENTS

  1. In 2019, Georgia Republicans passed a law increasing punishments for defacing, removing or “abusing contemptuously” such monuments. Because Decatur and other local governments had considered putting such monuments into museums, the new law explicitly forbids that option.

    A museum is where they belong, so it looks like cons staged a preemptive strike.
    No I do not advocate sandblasting the carving on Stone Mountain, nor do I wish any taxpayer money used to preserve it.
    Let it erode naturally

    • Like Mr Bookman, you r full of hate and looking for something to tear down. The obelisk is 30 ft tall and will not fit into most museums. Lincoln said many times that the war was not about slavery. If the south cared only for slavery all it had to do was return to the Union. Read about the Morrill tariff. The North was charging the south too much. And the tariff money was spent in the north. The monument is like a headstone. It represents the young men who never returned home. Get over this white supremacy crap.

      • Like Mr Bookman, you r full of hate and looking for something to tear down.
        Nope, I merely wish to remove this monument and put it somewhere else. If Klanners wish to preserve it, they can use their own resources to build a place large enough to store it.
        Move it, or lose it.
        It’s not complicated.

          • You are an ignoramus, like the author! Stop drinking the NAACP Cool-Aid[sic]!
            Oh, the irony!
            First of all, it’s Kool-Aid.
            Secondly, the product used at The People’s Temple in Guyana was Flavor-Aid, and not Kool-Aid.
            Glad I could help you out with your ignorance.

      • Lincoln said…
        Why not go with what several break away states said when they broke away? Slavery…. yep they did
        Of course you want the Confederate participation hate trophies to remain
        Bless your heart

  2. This monument and similar ones also were created to intimidate African Americans and limit their full participation in the social and political life of their community.” Yep and notice the statue was put up 40 years after the civil war.

        • It’s only relevant in that this was the time period when the old veterans were starting to pass away, so people became more concerned with remembering them as they left us.

          • Georgia’s declaration of secession in 1861 makes clear that its primary purpose was the protection of “African slavery;” the words “slave” or “slavery” appear 35 times in that document.

            It wasn’t so much about remembering veterans as it was reminiscing about the good old days of slavery.
            Besides, 30 years is 1 generation removed from the Civil War, and 40 years is a third of the way into the 2nd generation.
            Now, it’s 5 generations from that conflict, and some people still can’t let it go.
            Long past time to move on.

      • It’s relevant because the statues would put up during the time Jim Crow laws was enacted..Hence it was about intimidating not celebration.

    • “One argument used by those wanting to remove Confederate statues is that contemporary blacks had little chance to oppose them when they were erected. Aside from anecdotal evidence that blacks joined white crowds to observe the dedication ceremonies, one example in Mississippi provides undeniable evidence of explicit high-level black support. In 1890 the Mississippi legislature voted on a bill to appropriate $10,000 for a Confederate monument. The vote in the lower chamber was 57-to-41 in favor. All six black representatives voted “yea.” One, John F. Harris, made a supporting speech excerpted below prior to the vote:

      ‘Mr. Speaker! I have risen here in my place to offer a few words on the bill…I was sorry to hear the speech of the young gentleman from Marshall County. I am sorry that any son of a soldier should go on record as opposed to the erection of a monument in honor of the brave dead.

      And, sir, I am convinced that had he seen what I saw at Seven Pines and in the Seven Days’ fighting around Richmond, the battlefield covered with the mangled forms of those who fought for their country and for their country’s honor, he would not have made that speech….When the news came that the South had been invaded, those men went forth to fight for what they believed, and they made no requests for monuments…But they died, and their virtues should be remembered.’

      Sir, I went with them. I too wore the gray, We stayed four long years, and if that war had gone on till now I would have been there yet….I want to honor those brave men who died for their convictions.”

      He knew about Devil’s Punchbowl, do you?

    • It took 40 years for widows and orphans to sell enough cakes and donate enough Nicole’s and dimes to raise the money to pay for the memorial.

      It took a well funded US Government 60 years to erect the WW2 Memorial in DC – WELL AFTER THE WAR.

  3. Odd that Georgia republiklans were so challenged by reality that they had to pass a law maintaining a fantasy.
    Our state suffers daily from such blind attachment to fantasy.

  4. What is spiritually and morally satisfying is the fact that the truth regarding the immorality of slavery is no longer hidden from public view, but can, now, be proclaimed in writing, in the light of the sun for all to comprehend, next to the monuments which have, heretofore, denied that slavery was, and remains forever, an immoral and unequal state of human existence.

    Martin Luther King, Jr: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

    The words of Thomas Jefferson from his book, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” end of QUERY XVIII: “The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation . . . “

    Words of Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Mr. Charles Thompson, April 21, 1803: “His (Jesus’) moral doctrines, relating to kindred and friends, were more pure and perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers . . . and they went far beyond . . . in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids.”

  5. Confederate “monuments,” like Nazi “memorabilia,” belong in one place and one place only – a museum, as a reminder to us all of vile, hateful evil that once was and should never be again. According to my opinion.

  6. Great article
    Confederate participation trophies should be in cemeteries and museums.
    Town squares, courthouses and such are not the place. Never going to get them all but the reactions and comments from many in the pro-Confederate participation trophy brigade since various ones have been taken down in several states more than makes the point to have them moved

    • The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution forbade a large standing army, something G. Washington had preached against. No Federal troops were permitted to cross into a State without the permission of the Legislature of that State, or in the case where the Legislature was in recess and the matter was an emergency, the Governor could give such permission until the legislature could convene. it was forbidden for Federal troops to enter a state unless the State determined that an insurrection required such assistance. President Lincoln attempted to land Marines in Charleston Harbor before he sent the Star of the Sea there to reinforce Lt. Anderson at Sumter. The Marine Commander of the troops refused Lincoln’s orders because they were unconstitutional! The military swears an oath to uphold the Constitution and is not obligated to carry out any order that is illegal. The military is not subserviant to the President or their commanders, but to the law of the Constitution. The Star of the Sea gave their word to the Charleston Militia and the forces of the Citadel that they were not armed and only delivering humanitarian aid. Instead, they fired a cannon, showing that they indeed were armed and the Militia gave Anderson an order to vacate the harbor, for this breach of conduct, disrespect, and betrayal of their word. The Federal Forces burned the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth and caught part of the City on fire and did not entertain the efforts of the City Council to beg the Commander to stop the fires in the yard. Lincoln did not entertain the Virginia Peace delegation or the Reparations Committee sent by President Davis to discuss payment for the lost federal property in the South. Lincoln crossed into Maryland with armed troops without the permission of the State, arrested half of its legislators. He shut down presses and arrested newspaper editors and citizens and threatened to arrest the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when he sent an emissary to the President stating that he was violating the Constitution and denying habeas corpus. Lincoln attempted to raise a force of 75,000 troops to invade South Carolina without consulting or having the permission of Congress and then crossed into Virginia with United States forces at Manassas. This was an act of treason! Throughout Virginia, the various militia of every county town and city met at their traditional mustering place – in front of their Courthouses or City Halls. They marched off to Manassas and defeated the Union Army and in many cases never returned home until after the war, four years later, or in many cases died in the fields protecting their state and their relations. Not until the second battle of Manassas had Virginia joined the Confederacy.

      The Courthouses and City Halls of the South are a place where their citizens mustered to come to the aid of their state. It is there that monuments are raised to honor their efforts, their patriotism, their valor, and their deaths and sacrifice. Likewise, it is these same locations in Northern towns and Cities that monuments are raised to their Union veterans. Anyone who questions why monuments are raised at courthouses or City Halls is ignorant or shows gross disrespect for military veterans
      or is a slanderous coward!

      • Lot of tripe to say you don’t like the fact that some Confederate participation trophies have been taken down or moved
        Enjoy.. there will be more in the years to come
        Book it

  7. You pull down Confederate monuments get ready to pull down those dedicated to our African Americans, Native Americans, WWI and WWII heroes and others. Once it starts it will not end until all of our history is gone and government leaders can then rewrite it to suit them and their purposes.

    • Nonsense
      How is ‘our history’ taken away if Confederate participation trophies are moved to cemeteries and museums?
      Is there a national movement to stop teaching about the Civil War in public schools?
      If so please post that info and as well as state how well that movement is gaining traction?
      Thanks in advance for the credible info you will be posting
      And also thanks for the laughs

      • To educate those who are ignorant of this war there was never a Civil War but a War Between the States! The definition of a real civil war is when a group or groups of people try to overthrow the government! The South never tried to overthrow the government only wanted to succeed from the union! The North and especially Lincoln waged a war that was unconstitutional without Congresses approval!

  8. Another excellent column by Jay Bookman, well-researched and written with clarity. Bookman gives the accurate history behind the existence of the Confederate monuments. He does not express his opinion as to whether the statues should be removed, or not.

    He does state that the presence of those statues is an insult to some Georgians. That is truth, stated. Georgians are fortunate to be able to continue to read the perceptions of a writer of his caliber through the Georgia Recorder, a publication of high caliber, itself.

  9. Destroying monuments was historically a habit of the Communists, ISIS, and Taliban, but it is incredibly becoming commonplace here in America. Fascists within the US are actually worse; removing memorials and monuments to our own ancestors in the US who fought to defend their communities, families, and states from Imperialistic, warmongering, destructive, deadly invading military troops!

    Maybe someday Bookman will actually do some research on the reasons Southerners fought and stop attacking and maligning our honorable ancestors.

    • Have you read the Georgia declaration of Secession? Jay did. It’s in the article. Granted, you probably didn’t get any further than the headline.
      While the average soldier probably did view the war as a fight for his community and possibly didn’t even like slavery, HIS reasons are not the ACTUAL reasons for the war. To the GA state government, it most definitely was about slavery as can be read in the declaration of secession.

  10. …and yet this the author of this article I’ve never heard of, isn’t high profile, and insults our ancestors with lies and those that honor these men today. What a weak minded individual he is.

  11. I guess that most of you think that Bookman is an expert because he wrote for the Atlanta Urinal and Constipation for so many years. Plus because he list all of those fancy awards issued by other liberals. But he really should go and do some in-depth research on the issue of Slavery and the War Between The States. If he did he would find that before and during the war only 6% of the South’s Population owned Slaves. So the question is; What were the other 94% fighting for?

  12. Author omitted 1908 Springfield Illinois Race Riot in which all Blacks were killed or forced to leave after all their Property was burned. In 1907 Indiana and Connecticut instituted the Modern World’s first Eugenics Laws allowing forced sterilization. The Nazis at Nuremberg Trials used these Yale Yerkes Eugenics Statues in their defense. Hitler wrote glowingly about Lincoln not Davis. Lincoln’s first Inaugural address, the Corwin Amendment, Crittenden Comprise and US Congressional Joint Sub-committee Report of July 16 1862, make it clear the Union Army fought for cotton and tariffs not to do Blacks any favors. This Iconoclastic Mania is based on half truth, exaggeration, key omissons and a few direct lies. The North held 1/2 million slaves directly and one Million as Collateral to facilitate their #1 revenue source, textiles. One million Freedmen starved to death from direct result of Contraband policy, while Robber Barons funded Union Pacific RR while stealing much of the contract money in the Credit Mobiler Scandal. The writer is a Propagandist not a Historian.

  13. It is a shame this garbage has been printed! Wow….the false propaganda perpetuated in the words printed here align with the hatred of the left but a simple review of history (actual documents and not twisted info from those who wrote textbooks to infiltrate the minds of children with a false narrative because it does not support their hateful agenda to destroy history) will prove this mentality and the words printed here to be garbage.

  14. This hate little paper shuffler has exposed himself as one of the most historically ignorant ppl on the planet. Any honest observer can tell you without doubt the war of northern aggression was about denying Southerners their right to self govern so the north could continue spending in DC like drunken sailors. The north’s excessive taxation of the South was what prompted the CSA to leave the union, not slavery. The Congress even passed a bill forbidding any government interference with the institute of slavery if the southern states would only keep paying the crushing taxes. To try and perpetuate lies about historical facts in order to claim some moral high ground serves only to show how guilty the socialists feel for unnecessarily spilling the blood of over half a million Americans.

    • the war of northern aggression was about denying Southerners their right to self govern
      Yeppers, Southerners wanted their right to own other people.

      how guilty the socialists feel
      “socialists”?
      LOL! You had to really stretch in order to shoehorn that word into a conversation about mid 19th century events.

    • far better men than you’ll ever be

      Traitorous secessionists are “far better men”?
      It’s painfully obvious that you are being kept by better women and men than yourself.

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