Look to South Africa for guidance in reviewing Atlanta’s Confederate icons, panelist suggests

citBy David Pendered

Regina Brewer went large in recommending Atlanta consider the approach South Africa took as it determined the fate of monuments to white minority rule. Brewer said the approach could inform the city’s panel that met the first time Wednesday on its mission to review Confederate icons in the city.

Freedom Park, South Africa

South Africa established Freedom Park, near Pretoria, to provide history in addition to that which is available on icons from apartheid that remain standing in their original location. Credit: freedompark.co.za

In citing South Africa, Brewer set Atlanta on the same footing as President Nelson Mandela’s government as it sought in the 1990s to dismantle the residue of apartheid. Not all monuments to apartheid were removed; some that were retained were augmented with additional monuments nearby, including Freedom Park, which bares comparison to Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights.

“South Africa did a wonderful job of [interpreting] what went on with apartheid and recovering history, because Africans’ history was eliminated during apartheid,” said Brewer, a former chairperson of the city’s Urban Design Commission, an influential citizens panel that provides advice on historic buildings and sites.

“If there were a monument to a particular white Afrikaner, they still had something nearby that interpreted the other side,” Brewer said. “They are doing a very good job and I recommend we look at that.”

Brewer emerged as an outspoken member of the Confederate Monuments and City Street Names Advisory Committee. The committee met for less than an hour to constitute itself. Two working meetings are planned before the committee is to vote Nov. 13 on its final recommendations.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed delivered opening remarks to the committee he created in the aftermath of deadly encounters in August in Charlottesville, Va., related to the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.

Regina Brewer

Regina Brewer

Reed set a deadline of 45 days for the committee to deliver its recommendations to him. Reed said he wants a work product he can act on with support from the Atlanta City Council.

“In some instances, it may mean no change at all,” Reed said. “In some, you need to act decisively. In some cases, we may need to do more, to expand the tapestry of the city to expand our heritage and history.”

Reed’s comments harkened to those of Brewer – leaving existing icons in place and erecting others nearby to tell a bigger story.

Brewer had mentioned the work of Carolyn Holmes, an academician. An assistant professor at Mississippi State University, Holmes specializes in nationalism and post-conflict transitions to democracy in sub-Saharan Africa, according to her bio at MSU.

Holmes wrote an analysis of what the United States could learn from South Africa in terms of its historic monuments. The piece appeared Aug. 29 in washingtonpost.com and observed of the “expanded tapestry” approach cited by Reed:

  • “From the mid-1990s onward, the African National Congress-run government has used a different strategy: construct new monuments alongside the old ones. For instance, Pretoria’s Voortrekker monumentcelebrates the Afrikaner pioneers of the mid-1800s. About a mile away, the government built Freedom Park, a monument to the anti-apartheid struggle.
  • “While this strategy has met with mixed reactions, the idea was that the new South Africa would have monuments for everyone. Rather than destroying the past, it would be peacefully transformed into a multiracial present.”
holtzclaw street

Holtzclaw Street, in Reynoldstown, may be up for its review by a blue ribbon panel because its namesake is Confederate Gen. James Thadeus Holtzclaw, according to atlstreets.blogspot.com. Credit: atlstreetsblogspot.com

The committee now includes 11 members. Reed named six members in a note delivered Oct. 2 to the city council. The council added five additional members. Here’s the roster and the entity that made the appointment, according to a statement Reed’s administration released Oct. 13:

Mayor’s appointees

  • Sheffield Hale, president and CEO, Atlanta History Center;
  • Dan Moore, founder and director, APEX Museum;
  • Shelley Rose, associate director, Anti-Defamation League, Southeast Region;
  • Larry Gellerstedt, CEO, Cousins Properties;
  • Derreck Kayongo, CEO, National Center for Civil and Human Rights;
  • Sonji Jacobs Dade, senior director of leadership communications, Cox Enterprises, who once served as Reed’s chief spokesperson.

Council appointees

  • Douglas Blackmon, senior fellow and director of public programs, University of Virginia’s Miller Center; Pulitzer Prize-winning author;
  • Nina Gentry, owner, Gentry Planning Services;
  • Regina Brewer, preservation consultant;
  • Martha Porter Hall, community advocate;
  • Brenda Muhammad, executive director, Atlanta Victim Assistance.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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