By Tia Lynn Ivey
Madison City officials will announce a special public forum dedicated solely to discussing whether or not to remove the Confederate Monument erected in Hill Park in Madison after a petition to take it down earned more than 250 signatures. But that forum may take months before being scheduled due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
As word spreads of the requests from citizens to remove the Confederate monument, city officials have been inundated with e-mails and phone calls from citizens voicing their opinion on the matter.
“It’s a hot potato,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman. “We get e-mails about it everyday.”
The Confederate monument looming large in Hill Park has a long history in Madison.
The tall, slender monument crafted out of white Italian marble stands at 30 feet tall with the figure of a Confederate soldier standing at the top. Engraved on the monument is a line from a poem written by English poet Philip Stanley Worsley in 1866 to honor Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
“No nation rose so white and fair: None fell so pure of crime,” reads the engraving upon the Confederate monument. The engraving is a common feature included on numerous Confederate monuments across the South, including one in Augusta. and one in Athens. The controversial inscription has been deemed racist by numerous activists aiming to have these monuments removed. Defenders believe the poem is metaphorical and does not refer to race. The monument was built in 1908, after a fundraiser campaign throughout the county brought in $3,500 to pay for the Confederate monument. The statue was originally displayed in Madison near Town Square, in the middle of East Jefferson Street by the Main Street corner, but was moved to Hill Park, facing Main Street, in 1955, after being deemed a traffic hazard by local safety officials. Back in 1955, many local citizens spoke out against the move, describing the monument as Madison’s most “prominent and well-known” landmarks.
The debate in 2020 is now between those who view Confederate monuments as symbols of racism and hate and those who view confederate monuments as part of history and southern heritage. Some want it removed, others want it to stay as is, and others still are proposing a compromise, arguing it should stay but with some added verbiage, context and visuals to better reflect society’s values.
While a petition to have the Confederate monument removed has garnered 264 signatures as of press time on Tuesday, July 7. Other citizens are speaking out to preserve the statue right where it currently stands. According to Perriman and CIty Manager David Nunn, most of the citizens reaching out want the statue to stay put.
“The people we are hearing from want it to stay, but we won’t know what the public as a whole thinks until we can have a public forum about it,” said Perri“I am not tabulating just how many emails I have gotten, but by and large, the messages I have gotten say to leave it alone, to leave the statue in place,” said Nunn.
The Morgan County Citizen has received several letters to the editor regarding the controversial statue. Some were appalled at the idea of taking down the statue.
“Welcome to Historic Madison, the town Sherman refused to burn. But wait. We are going to do away with history,” wrote Mike Laseter of Madison in his letter to editor this week. “We are taking down all Confederate monuments and changing all the street names in the Country because the hyphenated Americans don’t like it and the rest don’t have a pair big enough to complain.”
“The core of this battle is not about the destruction of the [Confederate States of America], its monuments, or even the truth of history. It is about the destruction of integrity, of honor, of valor, of respect, of morality, and of decency,” wrote Teresa Wallace in her letter to The Citizen. “In short, it is about the destruction of a Christian nation. The fact that we not only do not deplore, but now accept and encourage dishonoring our national anthem, and I guess the pledge of allegiance as well, should let everyone know – no values are safe. And that includes the values of the perpetrators. This kind of vengeful destruction has a boomerang effect.”
One citizen took aim at the petition’s creator, Jeremy Maloy, a former Madison resident.
“Mr. Maloy, as you teach that precious son about respect and tolerance please extend those attributes to those grieving families that erected the Confederate monument now standing in Hill Park in memory of those precious sons that gave all to protect our homeland from a brutal and unforgiving army that burned and pillaged its way from Atlanta through Madison to Savannah,” wrote Marshall Davis of Madison. “Please note that the inscription “White and fair” has nothing to do with “the color of a person’s skin but everything to do with the content of their character,” he added.
Others wanted to find a realistic solution to appease both sides.
“Why can’t we find ourselves in the position of being the first town in America coming up with a real solution that is positive and not just another city being filmed dragging a 100-year-old statue off to a dump?” wrote Jan Manos of Madison. “Let’s find ourselves being on the Evening News as a city who faced a problem and came up with a solution to satisfy everyone. Let’s be an agent for change in a positive way, an example for others. That would be a wonderful legacy to set for the youth of Madison. I would gladly serve on a committee to re-interpret and then re-dedicate this wonderful Monument.”
Richard A. Simpson, a former member Madison’s Historic Preservation Commission and former president of the Morgan County Landmark Society weighed in on the debate, siding with those who want to see it taken down.
“Personally, I do support the removal because of what is written on it,” said Simpson about the “white and fair” line unscripted on the monument. “It appears to be a monument to white nationalism which is not something I support. I do understand the emotional attachment to symbols of the south. I grew up in the south and I have lived here most of my life. But I know that if I put myself in the shoes of African-Americans, it’s a terrible symbol. Out of loving kindness, I would like to see it go away. I’d support preserving it in an appropriate setting like a museum, but not on public property in a community that is half white and half black. It seems divisive.”
Statewide, the Georgia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans released a statement against movements aiming to remove Confederate monuments, statues, and symbols.
“The Georgia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans condemns in the strongest terms possible the vandalism, removal and defacement of any Veteran’s monuments, memorials, or grave markers and will vigorously pursue the prosecution of these heinous violations to the fullest extent of the law. We hold the services and sacrifices of our American veterans to be sacred and any acts against these heroes and patriots should be deemed by all patriotic Americans as an act of terrorism, equivalent to the atrocities performed by the Taliban and ISIS to erase the heritage and culture in their region,” said the press release. “Our organization also opposes in the strongest terms possible the removal, renaming, modification, or reinterpretation of any monument, memorials, or the names of streets and governmental institutions that are named after and that honors veterans of any conflict, or the Founding Fathers and Historical figures. Removal and modification is nothing more than an attack on true historical facts and is highly dangerous and evil.”
The controversy in Madison begin last month when Jeremy Maloy, a former Madison resident, started the petition on Change.org to have the Confederate Monument removed. “Because of the hundreds of years of oppression that black Americans have faced and in light of recent events with police brutality and racism in the United States, I feel that it is necessary to remove the confederate monuments from Hill Park and Madison Memorial Cemetery in Madison, GA,” wrote Maloy. “It is a blatant display of the terrible past that black Americans have had to endure due to inequality and discrimination. In order to promote equality, justice for those whose lives have been affected by the racism that is still alive today, we must bring the monuments down. For the future of the city, and for the futures of the children, we must bring these monuments down. Children should not be subjected to these inscriptions and hate from the past.”
As the public continues to debate the issue on social media and amongst themselves, City officials have opted not to discuss the issue at the first regular meeting open to the public this Monday, July 13.
“We will not discuss the statue at Monday night’s meeting,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman.
Monday’s regular meeting will be the first time the city has opened board meetings to the public after months of only offering online streaming due to concerns of the coronavirus pandemic. Perriman believes discussion about whether or not to remove the Confederate Monument should happen in a special public forum.
“We don’t know when yet because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but I would say within the next three months the council will announce a special public forum for our citizens to come and be heard about this issue,” said Perriman. “We want to make sure everyone who wants to can come and be heard.”
Perriman wants the city council to hear the various perspectives held among citizens of Madison before the council takes on a vote on how to proceed.
“Some people are being quiet about it but we won’t know the feelings of the public as a whole until we have a public forum. So far the ones we hear from, they want the statue to be left where it is at the park. It will continue to be a hot potato for awhile and we can’t drop it. But I am confident that after the public opinion is heard our council will be able to make a sound and constructive decision.”
To view the petition to have the Confederate monument removed visit: www.change.org/p/madison-ga-city-remove-confederate-monuments