For 112 years, a 30-foot obelisk stood outside the courthouse grounds in the suburban Atlanta city of Decatur.
Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, it suggested the Civil War was about state’s rights and “Southern honor” instead of the real root cause: slavery.
That structure was finally taken down last year. And in its place, officials now plan to erect a monument that honors the late John Lewis, a man who spent his entire life fighting for civil rights.
It is the latest chapter in a years-long battle the city has waged to rid itself of this symbol in its town square; a symbol it considered a dark legacy of slavery.
Decatur is a liberal enclave in a predominantly African American county, DeKalb.
But it also lies in a state that, in 2019, passed a law protecting Confederate monuments — saying they honored history and heritage.
First came the plaque
Hamstrung by state law, DeKalb County officials first installed a bronze plaque next to the obelisk to counter the narrative it pushed. The 184-word statement didn’t mince words.
The monument, it said, “bolstered white supremacy and faulty history.”
“This monument and similar ones also were created to intimidate African Americans,” it added.
That’s how things stayed — until last year when, compelled by the killing of George Floyd, America took a long, hard look at race and injustice.
In city after city, Confederate monuments toppled.
Then came the removal
As protests rocked the nation, Decatur argued the monument had become a threat to public safety. A judge agreed.
“The Confederate obelisk has become an increasingly frequent target of graffiti and vandalism, a figurative lightning rod for friction among citizens, and a potential catastrophe that could happen at any time if individuals attempt to forcibly remove or destroy it,” Judge Clarence Seeliger said in a ruling last June.
The point of the removal is not to prevent its public display but “instead is an appropriate measure to abate a public nuisance and protect the obelisk,” he added.
He ordered it removed and placed in storage until further notice.
Days later, a large crane pulled down the obelisk as those gathered chanted, “Take it down! Take it down!” Others applauded.
Next comes the tribute
This week, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to honor Lewis with a monument outside the courthouse where the obelisk stood.
Lewis, a towering figure of the civil rights movement and a longtime US congressman, died last July after a six-month battle with cancer.
“John was a giant of a man, with a humble heart,” Commissioner Davis Johnson said in a statement. “He met no strangers and he truly was a man who loved the people and who loved his country which he represented very well.
“He deserves this honor.”
Details about the memorial’s design and installation have not been announced.