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.
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.”
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.”
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:
- 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.
- 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.