Racial make-up of Atlanta’s Confederate icon review among thorny issues raised

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a typographical error in a quotation that misstated the racial composition of Atlanta, and add material related to the status of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, Va.

By David Pendered

The racial composition of the Atlanta committee that’s reviewing Confederate icons in the city was called into question Wednesday by Aaron Turpeau, a former cabinet member of Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young’s mayoral administrations. It wasn’t the only concern expressed.

The Lion of Atlanta statue in the city’s Oakland Cemetery honors some 3,000 unknown Confederate dead. It was installed in 1894. File/Credit: panoramio.com

Another speaker, and three committee members, questioned whether the committee can complete its duties before Thanksgiving. That’s the timeframe provided by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council.

A professor at Georgia State University, Tim Crimmins, who directs federally endowed workshops for teachers on the topic of Atlanta’s landmarks and Civil Rights history, urged committee members to remember the place in time that these monuments represent: “Historic contextualization is something the city should follow.”

Richard Rose, president of the NAACP’s Atlanta branch, called for the removal of Confederate icons. Rose said such street names and monuments amount to the honoring of an insurrection against the United States.

“Slavery was about degradation,” Rose said. “It is time for America to repudiate its racist white supremacist past. Atlanta should take heed from cities such as Baltimore and New Orleans … and stop the oppression of black and brown residents through these street names.”

holtzclaw street

Holtzclaw Street, in Reynoldstown, is up for its review by a blue ribbon panel because its namesake is Confederate Gen. James Thadeus Holtzclaw, the city’s preservation director said Wednesday. File/Credit: atlstreetsblogspot.com

A speaker who gave his name as Damani said he is a descendant of slaves and a Confederate general. He said no Confederate icons should be removed: “I am against hiding what happened. I want to know what happened. I want those who come after me to know what happened.”

John Dietrichs, twice a commandant of the Gate City Guard, which raised the Peace Monument in Piedmont Park, basically called for the preservation of a statue marred in August: “This monument represents one of the best efforts to the amicable reunion of the United States after the Civil War.”

These issues are the first inkling that Atlanta’s efforts to review Confederate icons could lead to an imbroglio similar to that which faced other cities, and universities, that sought to address memorials to the Confederacy. The fatal clashes in Charlottesville, Va. in August were triggered by the pending removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, as approved by the city council. Statues of Lee and Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson, which also is to be removed, are pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed in a Virginia state court, according to a statement on the city’s website.

Aaron Turpeau challenged the committee’s racial composition. Turpeau’s biography says he served 17 years as a city commissioner in various departments. Turpeau has since had contracts to run parking lots at airports in Atlanta and Denver.

“This is a race issue,” Turpeau said.

Turpeau said he had four points to raise on behalf of the Coffee Group, a politically active organization taking a role in the curry municipal elections. The issues Turpeau raised are:

  • “Any monument’s purpose is to praise and celebrate;
  • “The Confederacy existed to divide this country and defend the practice of slavery;
  • “In this city, we have a black population of 54 percent, 36 percent white.
  • “It is a complete insult to have a committee that is seven whites and four blacks to review this race issue.”
Aaron Turpeau

Aaron Turpeau

Turpeau concluded: “To not have at least equal representation at the table, at least for the review, amounts to the rest of the story.”

The committee is comprised of six members appointed by Reed and five members appointed by the council.

Committee co-chair Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Cente, concluded the meeting by outlining next steps.

By Friday, the city’s website is to have a page devoted to the committee’s work and all material gathered for review. The page is to be accessible from the city’s homepage.

On an ongoing basis, committee members will consider adopting principles to guide future consideration of Confederate icons. This is the platform to address the short timeframe for the current committee to deliver recommendations that can be acted on before the end of the year.

Nov. 8 is the next scheduled meeting, at 6 p.m. at Atlanta City Hall. More public comment will be taken and committee members are to discuss possible recommendations.

Nov. 13 is the final meeting scheduled. Members will discuss proposed recommendations, debate any proposed amendments, and possibly approve a set of recommendations.

These are the committee members:

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.

8 replies
  1. Greg says:

    “In this city we have a black population of 54 %, 3 % white.”
    Hmmmmm……. what race(s) constitute the remaining 43 % of the population ? The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville has not been removed.Report

    Reply
    • David Pendered
      David Pendered says:

      Thank you for your comments, Greg.
      I made a typographical mistake in the quotation regarding Atlanta’s racial composition, which you’ve cited. It’s been corrected.
      Also, I added material regarding the current status of two statues in Charlottesville, Va.
      Best regards,
      DavidReport

      Reply
  2. Charles A Person says:

    We would not erect monuments for Americans radicalized by Isis; why do we continue to idolized Americans who were radicalized by the Confederacy?Report

    Reply
    • Burroughston Broch says:

      You obviously never studied US History or have forgotten what you were taught. The people of the Confederacy were fighting in their states to protect and preserve their way of life. The ISIS radicals are fighting in foreign lands to destroy the established order.Report

      Reply
      • Charles A Person says:

        We fought the Germans, we fought the Japanese and we fought the Confederate States of America these entities were the enemy. You don’t memorialize the enemy.Report

        Reply
        • Maria Saporta
          Maria Saporta says:

          Obviously this is an emotional issue. Let’s try to have a respectful conversation without personal insults. Thank you for engaging. Let’s show we an be civil with each othe – even if we disagree. MariaReport

          Reply
        • atlman says:

          By the same token, the British Empire is a part of us, as is the Spanish Empire as the U.S. was created from their colonies. So do we have British and Spanish monuments and flags?

          The Confederacy was only 4 years and left no lasting contribution to world literature, art, philosophy, science or technology. Nor did it shape global political, economic and social events like – say – World War 1 and World War 2. And in our history of conflicts, it is less important than to us World War 2, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Cold War but more important than French-Indian War (barely, and even there only because the United States proper did not exist yet), the Mexican-American War (again not by much) and World War 1. And when one removes from consideration the issues surrounding the war (slavery, Reconstruction and 3 constitutional amendments) and focus purely on the conflict itself, only World War 1 (where there was absolutely, positively nothing with respect to America at stake and it didn’t matter which side won … if anything Germany winning or at least gaining a draw may have prevented the bigger horrors of World War 2, the spread of fascism and communism and the Cold War). There is absolutely no reason to attach any significance to it, historical or otherwise, unless you are bitter about being on the losing side.

          Take an example: the UK barely mentions the American Revolution. They are more likely to talk about the French Revolution and the Falkland War. And while we have Sons/Daughters of the Revolution in America, no such analogue exists in the UK. Also, where there are Sons/Daughters of the Confederacy (not of the Civil War mind you but of the Confederacy!) there is no Sons/Daughters of the Union counterpart because for the north the Civil War has its deserved footnote status. There is the Gettysburg National Park – along with several national parks that were Revolutionary War battlefields – and that is it. The north has nowhere near the wistful reverence for Uncle Tom’s Cabin that the south has for Gone With the Wind. Add it all up and the people who play the “tradition/heritage/culture” argument really don’t have much of it beyond fire eater type speeches that clearly express the actual rationale for secession and the war that the modern revisionists do their level best to pretend does not exist.

          Take the whole “southern belle” thing where people dress up like Scarlett O’Hara and have these huge antebellum balls. Yeah, that was realistic: because of the reality of the antebellum economy and the massive gap between the extremely tiny wealthy plantation owner class and everybody else (who was dirt poor) they don’t realize that there was a 99% chance that their ancestors couldn’t have gone to those balls because they weren’t upper crust. If you weren’t a landowner you had no economic or political power and far fewer legal rights. That was why they made sure to exempt themselves and their own sons from being compelled to join the Army during the Civil War. For the plantation class the war was an option which many declined. For everyone else the war was mandatory with severe penalties for desertion (in practice a capital crime). Claiming to defend their land … most of them weren’t landowners other than an acre or three. Most of them didn’t become landowners until the big plantations were broken up after the war, which means that with the exception of the plantation owners whites benefited more economically and politically from the south losing the Civil War than blacks did, and owe their great advancement to the Confederate economic system being destroyed, as had it not been like 95% of the white population of the south would still own very little property, have meager educations and be quite poor. So when they talk about “history” they have no idea what they are speaking of, because unless you were a plantation owner there was no history, culture or anything else associated with the antebellum south that benefited you personally that was worth preserving or remembering. It would be little different from eastern Europe preserving their “heritage” of being dominated by the Soviet Union, Korea and China preserving their “heritage” of being occupied by Japan, or Austria, the Czech republics and France preserving their “heritage” of being occupied by Nazi Germany.

          The antebellum south and the Confederacy was a horrible pre-capitalist, pre-democratic system – basically feudalism without the positive benefits of institutions like monarchy and knighthood that often acted as a check against the more base and depraved instincts of humanity when the king was actually good or at the very least concerned with his popularity – where a very few got to rise up by climbing up the backs and standing on the necks of the many and if that is what someone chooses to celebrate with their flags and statutes well go ahead, but please understand that it is not something that is based on things like fact and reason.Report

          Reply
        • Greg says:

          Weren’t the British also at one time “the enemy” ? Up the road in Greensboro N.C. is a memorial raised to honor Col James Stuart, a member of the Queens Guard. An inscription reads “Erected by the GBG CO in honor of a brave foe.” Then there is the 5 ton granite memorial to British major John Andre , maintained in a park-like setting in a Tappan, NY. neighborhood.Report

          Reply

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