Case Study: Confederate Monuments and Street Names in Atlanta, Georgia

Following violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, then-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced the formation of an advisory committee. The Advisory Committee on City of Atlanta Street Names and Monuments Associated with the Confederacy was co-chaired by Atlanta History Center CEO Sheffield Hale and Center for Civil and Human Rights CEO Derreck Kayongo and was tasked with making recommendations for a variety of monuments on City property and street names throughout Atlanta. Members of the advisory committee were appointed by both the Mayor and City Council.

The committee had four public meetings to discuss the future of Confederate monuments and street names and released a full report outlining research and recommendations.

Case study available for download here.

Process:

Research

City of Atlanta committee staff conducted research on all street names under consideration, working to identify, when possible, the origin of the street name. Atlanta History Center staff, meanwhile, researched the monuments under consideration using a variety of archival and online sources. The monument interpretation template was used as a guide. Additional research on the civic organizations that commissioned the various monuments as well as legal considerations facing the City was also conducted. All of this research was presented by City staff at the advisory committee meetings, which were open to the public. A summary of the research can be found in the committee’s full report.

Public Comment

Each meeting began with a public comment period so that interested community members could express their thoughts and opinions. Meetings were televised as well for anyone unable to attend in person. Public comment was also accepted through a City email address; these comments were distributed to members of the committee and posted online by City staff prior to the final meeting.

Recommendations

A summary of the recommendations of the committee can be found in the full report, but in general, the committee recommended contextualizing two monuments, removing two monuments to City storage, and altering the street renaming process and renaming certain streets immediately.

Implementation of the recommendations was delegated to a City Council subcommittee in July 2018 consisting of Councilmembers Natalyn Archibong, Michael Julian Bond, and Carla Smith. The first recommendation to be implemented was changing Confederate Avenue to United Avenue, formal consideration of which began in August 2018. The renaming was approved by legislation passed by the full Council on October 1, 2018 and signed by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on October 3, 2018. Grassroots activism had been advocating for this change prior to the formation of the Advisory Committee and successfully canvassed the neighborhood to get the required approval of street residents.

Contextualization

Barred from removing the two recommended monuments by state law O.C.G.A. § 50-3-1, the City subcommittee opted to contextualize these two monuments instead: the Peace Monument in Piedmont Park and the Peachtree Battle Avenue monument. The Atlanta History Center worked with the City to develop contextualization text panels for these two monuments.

After conducting extensive research, Atlanta History Center staff began by drafting several pages of concepts that could be discussed in the contextualization panels. Staff then reworked this text into two panels for the Peace Monument and one panel for Peachtree Battle Avenue monument, paying special attention to explaining the Reconciliation movement, which spurred both of these monuments. While the Reconciliation movement aimed to unite North and South following the Civil War, this reunion depended on the implementation of segregation laws that preserved the pre-Civil War social order of white political and social dominance. Both monuments contain Reconciliation language that describes the movement being in the spirit of “national fraternity” or calling the reunion “perfected,” ignoring the cause of the Civil War and essentially saying that a reunion that included segregation, which denied civil and social rights to millions of Americans, was a perfect union. Text was carefully reviewed and edited by staff experts and presented to the City Council subcommittee in draft form in October 2017, followed by a final draft in January 2019 that included the design, mock-ups, and images.

Two other monuments, the Lion of Atlanta and the Confederate Obelisk in Oakland Cemetery, were originally recommended for contextualization by the Advisory Committee, since they were part of an early memorialization movement. This earlier movement focused on mourning loss of life and often resulted in monument placement within cemeteries. The obelisk stands in the middle of the Confederate section of the cemetery and includes the simple inscription “Our Confederate Dead,” while the Lion of Atlanta serves as a tombstone for 3,000 unknown Confederate dead.

The Historic Oakland Foundation, along with assistance from independent scholars as well as scholars from Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University, developed contextualization panels for these two cemetery monuments. These monuments were already part of the cemetery’s walking tours, but these panels provide further opportunities to engage interested visitors.

All finalized panels were approved by the Atlanta City Council subcommittee in May 2019 and were installed TBD. Funding for the fabrication of all panels was provided by the Atlanta History Center.

Timeline:

  • August 12, 2017— Violence in Charlottesville, Virginia provoked a nationwide reexamination of Confederate monuments and symbolism
  • September 14, 2017— Resolution creating Advisory Committee on City of Atlanta Street Names and Monuments Associated with the Confederacy approved by City Council and Mayor. The Advisory Committee had eleven members, five of which were appointed by City Council and six of which were appointed by the Mayor.
  • October 18, 2017— first meeting of the committee, Atlanta History Center CEO Sheffield Hale and Center for Civil and Human Rights CEO Derreck Kayongo elected co-chairs
  • November 1, 2017— second committee meeting
  • November 8, 2017— third committee meeting
  • November 13, 2017— final committee meeting, recommendations adopted
  • November 20, 2017— finalized report transmitted to City of Atlanta
  • January 2, 2018— Newly elected City Councilmembers, City Council President, and Mayor begin terms
  • July 2018— City Council President Felicia Moore appoints a 3-councilmember subcommittee to implement recommendations, which included Councilmembers Natalyn Archibong, Michael Julian Bond, and Carla Smith
  • August 2018— Formal consideration of changing the name of Confederate Avenue begins
  • September 20, 2018— Meeting of the City Council subcommittee to discuss contextualization of Confederate monuments
  • October 1, 2018— Legislation to change Confederate Avenue to United Avenue approved by Atlanta City Council
  • October 3, 2018— Legislation to change Confederate Avenue to United Avenue signed by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Confederate Avenue street signs are replaced with United Avenue throughout the fall.
  • October 17, 2018— Meeting of the City Council subcommittee to discuss implementing other recommendations of the Advisory Committee. Draft contextualization text is presented by Atlanta History Center and Oakland Cemetery and City staff present research on street names.
  • November-December, 2018— Atlanta History Center staff draft contextualization language for Peace Monument and Peachtree Battle Avenue monument for final approval.
  • January 11, 2019— Atlanta History Center submits renderings and mock-ups of panels for review and approval by City Council subcommittee.
  • January 21, 2019— Ceremony officially celebrates the new United Avenue.
  • March 30, 2019— Georgia Legislature votes to increase protections for monuments. This law increased fines and penalties of vandalism of any monument, as well as preventing removal or obscuring of monuments. Contextualization was not impeded by this new law.
  • April 26, 2019— Governor Brian Kemp signs monument legislation, with an immediate effective date.
  • May 20, 2019— Atlanta City Council approves legislation to contextualize Peace Monument, Peachtree Battle Avenue monument, Lion of Atlanta, and the Confederate Obelisk.
  • August 2, 2019— Exhibition panels installed at Peace Monument and Peachtree Battle Avenue monument.

At A Glance: Examples of Actions Related to Confederate Monuments in States that Prohibit Removal

States with laws protecting Confederate Monuments: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia. More information about these laws can be found here.

The below at-a-glance examples represent a few ways that cities and universities within these 7 states that prohibit removal have chosen to address the Confederate monument controversy.

Examples:

Savannah, Georgia

Decatur, Georgia

  • After unsuccessfully seeking to find a way to remove the monument, contextualization has been chosen as an appropriate option
  • Language has been approved for the plaque, but it has not yet been created.

University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi

  • Created plaque that was added to the base of the monument, along with online contextualization resources.
  • In 2019, student and faculty senates voted to move the Confederate monument to a nearby cemetery. These discussions are ongoing with University administration.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

  • “Silent Sam” statue pulled down during protests in August 2018. Pedestal removed in January 2019.
  • University system Board of Governors rejected the proposal to build a museum on campus to house the monument, but has postponed a final decision on what to do with the monument

Raleigh, North Carolina State Capitol monuments

  • August 2018: North Carolina Historical Commission voted to keep the Confederate monuments on the grounds of the state capitol with additional contextualization and to add new monuments
  • $2.5 million allocated by state legislature to create a monument honoring African American history. This process is currently in the early planning stages.

Memphis, Tennessee

  • City of Memphis sold a park containing Confederate monuments to a private non-profit organization in order to be able to remove the Confederate monuments. The statues are currently in storage.
  • Appeals court ruled in favor of Memphis in June 2019, but the ruling might be appealed to the Tennessee State Supreme Court.

Richmond, Virginia

  • In 2017, commission appointed to make recommendations, released comprehensive report in July 2018 that included a variety of recommendations ranging from contextualization to removal to erecting new monuments
  • In February 2019, Mayor Levar Stoney established a History and Culture Commission to advise on implementing recommendations of Monument Avenue Commission


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