Calls grow to remove Confederate statue from state Capitol’s front lawn

By: - June 9, 2020 7:11 am

There are renewed calls to remove a statue of John Brown Gordon, a major general in the Confederate Army. Barricades have been put up around the Capitol grounds as protesters called for tearing down the statue. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

A high-ranking Georgia Democrat has joined the push for the “immediate removal” of an embattled Confederate statue that sits on a prominent corner of the state Capitol lawn.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell penned a letter to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp Monday after the statue of John Brown Gordon became the focus of protests over the weekend and prompted law enforcement officials to guard the monument. On Monday, barricades encircled the Capitol grounds, home to other Confederate tributes.

Gordon was a major general of the Confederate Army, governor, U.S. senator and leader of the Ku Klux Klan. His likeness has sat astride a horse outside the Capitol since 1907, just a few years after his death.

“The statue’s nexus to hate in our state is overwhelming,” the Luthersville Democrat wrote. “Its presence is both divisive and offensive. It does not represent Georgia, and we should not invest capital in defending idols that hurt Georgians and stain Georgia’s image.

“We can certainly do better,” he added.

The governor’s office did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday.

These symbols of the Confederacy are facing new scrutiny as protests continue across the country following the death of Georgia Floyd in Minnesota. A flier circulating on Twitter says daily protests will continue “until you #TEARDOWNGORDON.”

Some city and state officials elsewhere have already heeded calls to remove Confederate monuments.

In Georgia, city officials in Athens have said they plan to move a tribute to the local Confederate dead away from the town center and the iconic University of Georgia Arch. There is also renewed cries to relocate a “Lost Cause” monument from the Decatur Square.

Monday the “Peace Monument” in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park was spray-painted with the words “racist shame.” It was dedicated in 1911 to promote peace between north and south after the Civil War. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

The monuments have been vandalized during recent protests, leaving some to argue that moving monuments to a museum or other setting might be in their best interest. Some local officials have also said they worry they pose a public safety risk in this time of social unrest.

State law, though, bars officials from moving monuments unless they are placed at a “site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, and access.” Those who argue for Confederate memorials to stay put caution against what they see as attempts to erase the past.

At the Capitol, the Gordon statue is just one of many nods to the Confederacy that can be found. An imposing statue of Benjamin Harvey Hill, a Confederate leader, looks down on all who pass through the Capitol. There is also a large portrait of General Robert E. Lee that hangs near the House chamber.

The Gordon statue has survived calls for its ouster in the past.

Disappearing it from the Capitol lawn is way overdue, said state Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Lilburn Democrat who held a press conference near the statue Monday in hopes of helping to shape the objectives of the ongoing protests – like rallying behind a hate crimes law and calls to shift some funding from law enforcement to community-based programs.

But she said removing a symbol that to her represents the glorification of the Confederacy would not be enough.

“Removing that statue would mean something to some people. It definitely would mean something to me. But that’s not going to change some of the other ills that people are facing,” Clark said.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.