Ellis: Time is right to move Confederate monuments
Black religious leaders from across the state called for Macon-Bibb County officials to take a stand by removing Confederate memorials from downtown public squares.
Former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis was flanked by about 40 representing a couple dozen churches Wednesday for a rally outside the Macon-Bibb County Government Center. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, the prelate to about 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia, joined Ellis in saying the Confederate monuments should be moved to a more appropriate place.
One of the first decisions Ellis made as mayor was to remove the state flag from his office because it bore the Confederate battle emblem. He said Wednesday he believes now is the right time to remove the monuments from downtown.
“We’re not calling for the desecration,” Ellis said. “We’re not calling for the elimination, to destroy these statues in any way.”
He later added, “It’s time for us to open our eyes and open our hearts and do the right thing.”
Confederate monuments, Jackson said, were often erected in prominent places as symbols of hate and white supremacy. He called upon Macon leaders to “demonstrate leadership for the rest of Georgia.”
“These monuments and statues were not built and were not placed to celebrate the Confederacy, they were built in place for two reasons: One, to remind people of the reasons for which the Civil War was fought, which was to perpetuate slavery,” Jackson said. “The second reason they were built was to intimidate and place fear in African-Americans.”
There are two notable statues memorializing the Confederacy in downtown Macon.
An unnamed Confederate soldier statue stands at the corner of Cotton Avenue and Second Street. Another monument honoring the wives, mothers and daughters of Confederate soldiers is located on Poplar Street — just a stone’s throw from the Government Center where the rally was held.
Several Macon-Bibb commissioners said earlier this month that the community has more pressing concerns to deal with other than Confederate statues.
Confederate monuments and markers have been taken down from public spaces across the nation in the wake of violence surrounding the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist march.
Ellis, who served as mayor from 1999-2007, disagrees that state law prevents local officials from moving Confederate monuments.
The Georgia code states any Confederate memorial located on public property cannot 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.
But Ellis says Macon-Bibb commissioners could exercise “Home Rule” which would allow them to move the statues to sites such as Rose Hill Cemetery or the Cannonball House.
“The state does not dictate what you can put in your public space,” Ellis said. “That’s a city right.”
A cemetery with Confederate solider burial grounds or a museum can provide a better context for what the monuments represent and still serve the purpose of preserving them, Ellis said.
“The time has come to move these statues given what’s going on in the nation now,” he said.
During Ellis tenure in the mayoral office, he pushed for segregated signs to be uncovered when the city purchased the Terminal Station. He has said that the number of Confederate monuments across the nation is striking but in the case of the Terminal Station he thought it was suiting place to show how far the country has come.
“Thank God what they meant for evil turned out to be good,” Ellis said. “It was an African-American mayor who bought the building and now we can enjoy all aspects of the building — where white people went. Where black people went. It was a reminder of who we were and not who we are.”