The calls to remove the Confederate memorial that is located on the Lawrenceville Square came from all sides on Sunday.
Both District Attorney Danny Porter, a Republican, and his Democratic Party opponent in this year’s election, Patsy Austin-Gatson, called for the monument to be removed from the grounds of the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse during a protest rally on the square Sunday. So too did state Reps. Shelly Hutchinson and Gregg Kennard, Gwinnett school board member Everton Blair, soon-to-be-school board member-elect Tarece Johnson and Democratic Party county commission District 1 candidate Kirkland Carden.
Even the chairman of the Gwinnett County Historic Restoration and Preservation Board, Aaron Ragans, and board member Marlene Taylor-Crawford called for the monument’s removal.
“This monument to hate has no place in our county,” Ragans said. “I, like all of you here, would like to see it removed entirely, but given that state law is not on our side, we’ve got a plan. This monument needs to be moved and framed with context as to what exactly Confederate memorials served to do across this nation.
“And at this spot, we need a new monument to the lynching victims that lost their lives in this county (including) one, Charles Hale, who lost his life at this very corner in 1911.”
The Historical Restoration and Preservation Board is planning to call a special meeting to vote on sending to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners a recommendation to move the memorial. State law protects Confederate monuments from being destroyed, but officials can pursue efforts to move it.
Ragans said the date and time of the meeting is expected to be announced this week, and that it will be held online to allow for safe public participation during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. Officially, the board as a whole, has not taken a stance on the issue yet.
“We cannot speak on behalf of the Historical Restoration and Preservation Board, but we can speak as members of the board, so we stand in support,” Taylor-Crawford said. “So we want you to know we will fight with you until the very end.”
Sunday’s protest rally highlighted the broadest range of groups and individuals who support removal the memorial, which was erected in 1993 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Supporters of its removal wrapped a “Black Lives Matter” flag around it during the rally.
Johnson, who is a co-founder of the Alliance for Black Lives and a co-organizer of Sunday’s rally, said the event proved to be an opportunity to educate people about the history of the county, and particularly the Lawrenceville Square.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand there were actually lynchings in this exact area,” she said. “This monument that was put up in 1993 — the name of the monument is ‘Lest We Forget’ — it’s just such an offense to the movement we’re in today.”
Bipartisan support for removing the memorial
One of the most interesting twists is that both candidates for district attorney who will appear on the ballot in the November election are calling for the memorial’s removal.
Porter is believed to be the first Republican elected official in Gwinnett to publicly call for the monument’s removal.
“This needs to be removed because it implies agreement, it implies consent, by the county government, by the powers that be and I don’t think that’s right,” he said. “I believe it should be in the context of history, warts and all. It should not be destroyed or defaced, but moved and I’m here to support that.”
Austin-Gatson said the push to have the memorial removed from the historic courthouse’s grounds is part of an ongoing fight against systemic racism.
“It’s time for this to stop, it’s enough,” she said. “These kind of statues have to come down because we don’t need to glorify a racist past. What we need to do is move forward, got forward and do what needs to be done.”
They join Solicitor General Brian Whiteside, who is seeking a remedy from the Gwinnett County Superior Court to have the monument declared a public nuisance and order its removal. Whiteside has a court complaint, which states the monument has become a target for vandals, pending before Judge Tracy Mason.
Carden and former 7th Congressional District candidate Nabilah Islam helped give steam to the push to remove the memorial when they began a Change.org petition last month calling on commissioners to move the memorial, possibly to the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford. Carden said he plans to present the petition to the county commission at its July 28 meeting.
“It’s time for Gwinnett County to bury the myth of a lost cause once and for all and relocate this monument to a more appropriate location,” Carden said.
Legacy of a lynching looms over the Lawrenceville Square
During Sunday’s protest, a heavy emphasis was put on remembering the lynching of Charles Hale on the corner of Pike and Perry Streets on the Lawrenceville Square in 1911. During a part of the gathering where participants were asked to shout the names of African-Americans who have been killed recently — including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks — Hale’s name was added to the list as well.
A printout of a photo of Hale’s lynching, which is in the holdings of the Georgia Archives, was shown at the rally Sunday.
Blair, who became the first African-American elected to the Gwinnett County Board of Education in 2018, said students in the county’s school district should be taught about what happened to Hale and other victims of lynchings as part of a more inclusive curriculum that teaches the history of all ethnicities.
“I did not know who Charles Hale was when I grew up in Gwinnett County Public Schools,” Blair said. “That is a problem. The history that we all have been taught is a whitewashed and revisionist one.”
There is a push emerging to have a memorial to Hale and other victims of lynchings in Gwinnett erected in the county. Steve Babb with the Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition said there are at least three documented cases of African-Americans being lynched in the county. Hale’s death is the most recent, but two others occurred in the 1880s.
“We’re basically trying to remember the victims of lynchings here in Gwinnett,” Babb said of his group’s work.
That history of lynchings, and the fact that the Confederate memorial was erected a few yards away from where Hale was lynched, is one of the reasons why several participants in Sunday’s rally said the monument should be removed.
“The county commission failed us (in 1993),” Ragans said. “This monument went up on this street corner, where historic lynchings occurred, as a reminder — a reminder that African-Americans need to ‘remember their place’ in the hierarchy, thus emboldening those who see this as a rallying cry to the lost cause of the Confederacy.”