As the nationwide debate continues over the displaying of Confederate monuments and the Confederate battle flag, a legislator from Gwinnett County is leading an effort at the state Capitol to get them banned from public spaces in Georgia.
State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville, has authored House Bill 1212, which would prohibit Confederate monuments, as well as statues of slave owners or individuals who advocated for slavery, from being displayed on public property — except in Civil War battlefields and museums.
The bill’s filing comes one year after the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation to protect those same monuments and make it harder for local communities to remove them.
“These statues are not relics that the General Assembly has forgotten about — there is a statue to a Ku Klux Klan leader right outside the Gold Dome,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “Just last year, Senate Bill 77 passed into law, providing Confederate monuments with even more protections than they had already. Georgia has done a better job protecting these racist statues than it has protecting the lives of its citizens.”
The bill was filed in the House Hopper on June 16 and has been assigned to the House Governmental Affairs Committee. The committee met Monday and Tuesday, but did not take the bill up.
There has been an increasing backlash against Confederate symbols in light of the ongoing protests over violence against African-Americans. NASCAR has banned the flying of the Confederate flag at its races, and a Confederate monument that stood in Decatur was removed last week.
A petition was also launched Friday calling on Gwinnett County leaders to remove a Confederate monument that was erected in 1993 on the grounds of the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse on the Lawrenceville Square. The historic courthouse grounds is a county-owned park site, and the monument is less than 10 yards away from the site of a 1911 lynching of an African-American man.
There also been calls to remove the statue of Gov. John B. Gordon from grounds of the state Capitol. The New Georgia Encyclopedia, which is a joint project of the University System of Georgia and the governor’s office states Gordon was “generally acknowledged as the head of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.”
Arguments against allowing the monuments to continue standing include assertions that Confederate symbols are racist symbols and that people who fought for Confederacy had taken up arms against the United States.
Proponents of the monuments have argued that they are a way of remembering southern heritage, but Hutchinson took umbrage at that argument.
“It is unconscionable that 155 years after the Civil War ended, some in our state’s government still cannot decide which side should be glorified,” Hutchinson said. “The Confederacy is not some lost cause to be admired and honored. It was a shameful chapter in our history where Georgia took up arms against the United States and defended the ownership of fellow human beings.
“The excuse that we need these monuments and statues to ‘remember history’ has worn thin. If the only reason people remember the Civil War is because of grandiose statues, then we clearly need to be allocating more of our budget to education.”
Since Senate Bill 77 was passed into law last year, there have been two high-profile, racially charged cases involving the deaths of African-American men in Georgia. They are among a series of deaths of African-Americans around the nation this year that have prompted protests across the U.S.
“Right now, this nation and this state are experiencing a long overdue demand for racial justice,” Hutchinson said. “There have been peaceful protests all across America — including dozens in Georgia — opening many people’s eyes to the injustices that African Americans have experienced at the hands of our own government.
“At many of these peaceful marches and rallies, advocates of racial equality stand in the shadows of statues glorifying the Confederacy and those who fought for slavery.”
Hutchinson’s co-sponsors on the bill include three other members of Gwinnett County’s legislative delegation: Reps. Dar’shun Kendrick, D-Lithonia; Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain; and Gregg Kennard, D-Lawrenceville.
Other co-sponsors on the bill include: Reps. James Beverly, D-Macon; Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta; and Derrick Jackson, D-Tyrone.
The bill faces an uphill battle since it was filed late in the 2020 legislative session, which only has about a week left. If the bill isn’t passed by both chambers of the General Assembly before the session ends, it will have to be re-filed in January, when the 2021-2022 legislative term begins.
“Confederate statues are not about history or heritage,” Hutchinson said. “They are symbols. Their display on state property symbolizes that we, as the state of Georgia, are willing to glorify the movement that fought for slavery and honor those who committed treason against the United States.
“While removing them will not erase 400 years of systemic oppression, it will send a message that Georgia no longer glorifies a shameful chapter of our past. It is time to take them down.”