Macon officials keeping focus on other issues instead of Confederate monuments

Should the Confederate monument stay in downtown Macon?

Macon residents share their thoughts about the Confederate monument on Cotton Avenue.
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Macon residents share their thoughts about the Confederate monument on Cotton Avenue.

The consensus among Macon-Bibb County officials is to stay away from the debate over relocating the county’s Confederate memorials.

And even if commissioners wanted to remove or relocate its two downtown Macon Confederate monuments, it would be unlikely to happen because of state law. Several commissioners have said over the last couple of days there are more pressing issues to focus on rather than Confederate statues.

The debate over Confederate memorials has intensified in recent days since the hatred and violence surrounding the Charlottesville, Virginia, white nationalist march. In Baltimore, Confederate statutes were taken down overnight this week. And in Durham, North Carolina, some protesters have been arrested after toppling a monument.

Georgia law prohibits the removal or relocation of Confederate memorials located on public grounds.

A petition asking state legislators to change the law had been signed by more than 500 people who want to remove Confederate monuments from Decatur’s public spaces.

In downtown Macon, a Confederate soldier statue stands at the corner of Cotton Avenue and Second Street. Near the Poplar Street and First Street intersection is another monument paying tribute to the wives, mothers and daughters of those soldiers.

Commissioner Gary Bechtel said he understands why emotions ignited following Charlottesville, but said he’s hopeful Macon’s monuments don’t become a major point of contention.

“I hope we don’t get into that,” he said. “I think we have other things that are more important to the citizens of Macon-Bibb County than debating the moving of these monuments.”

And Commissioner Al Tillman, who is black, said the Confederate monuments have not stopped him from obtaining his goals. If others want to advocate for their relocation, he may support their efforts, but his attention is more on stopping violence in communities instead of memorials.

“It didn’t stop me from getting an education,” he said about Macon’s Confederate monuments. “It didn’t stop me from getting into the military. It didn’t stop me from creating a businesses. They didn’t stop me from my children being on the honor roll. I live my life everyday on a mission to practice unity and on a unifying mission.”

The Georgia code states that any memorial located on public property can not be “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion.” It further states that “appropriate measures” can be taken to ensure the monument is protected or preserved.

And locally, the Macon-Bibb County Commission also recently adopted a measure saying it would not move or relocate any “monuments, memorials and historical markers” without approval by the commission.

Commissioner Joe Allen, who pushed for the measure, said officials should uphold that decision to not move any of its memorials.

Commissioner Virgil Watkins has said the monuments are a reminder of the ugly history behind the Confederacy, including enslaving his ancestors. He has mentioned Rose Hill Cemetery — where Confederate solider burial grounds are located — as maybe a more appropriate place for the statues.

Commissioner Larry Schlesinger said even if Macon-Bibb officials had a say in moving statues, he would want to get better sense of how residents feel about the topic.

“I’d like to come to some sort of community consensus,” he said.

A Confederate monument in Cornelius was vandalized Aug. 13, 2017, a day after violence between white supremacists and counter-protesters left a woman dead and dozens of people injured in Charlottesville, Va.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph