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Teach-in at ‘Indian War’ cannon in Decatur displayed inclusive history lessons

Editor’s note: This story was updated Monday with a photo gallery by Kelly Jordan.

By David Pendered

The “Indian War” cannon in Decatur is in the national spotlight as advocates for the cannon’s removal gathered Sunday at an event organized with input from teenagers who wanted a teach-in to help show the types of history lessons they want in school.

cannon, aug. 22, 2021

The crowd at the teach-in about the ‘Indian War’ cannon on the Decatur Square came despite threatening rains. Many maintained social distancing. (Photo by Paul McLennan)

Local teachers and historians convened around the piece of artillery mounted on the Decatur Square. As inclement weather threatened and organizers considered postponing the event, they were swayed by a member who said the message is too great to be rained out, “A message to honor the Muscogee people.”

The lessons and speakers arranged by the Decolonize Decatur Committee of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights included:

  • “Why are monuments built and erected? (Dawn Bolton, Renfroe Middle School):
  • “Who are the Muscogee people and how were they removed? (Javier Fernandez, Social Studies, Decatur High School);
  • “Who were the United Daughters of the Confederacy? (Elizabeth Keohane-Burbridge, Upper School History, Woodward Academy);
  • “What was happening in Decatur/DeKalb when cannon was placed in 1906? (Anthony Downer, Social Studies, Frederick Douglass High School);
  • “Why is this history relevant for students today?” (Jennifer Gonzalez, History, Decatur High School).

This cannon is memorialized as a ‘relic of the Indian War of 1836,’ which was part of the campaign to remove Native Americans from Georgia. (File/Photo by Kelly Jordan)

The national recognition for Sunday’s event came from the Zenn Education Project, based in Washington, D.C. and named for an historian who promoted inclusive history lessons, Howard Zinn. The Decatur program is one of two events in Georgia highlighted by the Zinn project as part of its Teaching People’s History program. The other event in Georgia is scheduled for Friday on the campus of the University of Georgia.

Zinn was a progressive of his era who earned his doctorate in history from Columbia University. Zinn taught at Spelman College from 1956 through 1963, according to Spelman’s account. Zinn’s biography on his website says Spelman fired him for supporting student protesters involved in the civil rights movement. Spelman awarded Zinn an honorary degree in 2005. Zinn died in 2010.

With input from teenagers, the Decolonize Decatur Committee of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights organized a teach-in Sunday at the Decatur Square. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Then-President Donald Trump lambasted Zinn as a collaborator with the thinking represented by “The New York Times’” 1619 Project, which has spurred calls for a more inclusive teaching of U.S. history. Trump criticized Zinn for writing “propaganda tracts … that try to make students ashamed of their own history,” along with “the totally discredited 1619 Project,” according to a story published by an affiliate of George Washington University.

For the event Sunday, organizers distributed an advertising flyer with a headline stating, “Today, you can’t hear it fire. But its voice is loud and clear.” The voice, according to the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, reminds passersby of white supremacy via the forced expulsion of Indigenous peoples. The inscription on the pedestal of the cannon states:

  • “Relic of the Indian War of 1836. Mounted by Agnes Lee chapter UDC [United Daughters of the Confederate] No. 434. Apr 26, 1906.”

The effort to have DeKalb County remove the cannon is associated with the effort to remove a Confederate monument from the Decatur Square. The monument was removed last year, upon the order of then-Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger. The cannon was not part of the judge’s removal order and advocates for its removal have maintained a steady presence in calling for it to be taken from the square and stored out of public sight until an appropriate venue can be determined.

(Photo gallery by Kelly Jordan)

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David Pendered

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.

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