The protection and acknowledgement of Confederate monuments has long been a divisive issue both in Georgia and throughout the country. Georgia Senate Bill 77 amends the Official Code of Georgia annotated to actively protect all government statues and monuments, meaning that it prohibits the removal of monuments of Confederate War leaders or figures. The bill makes it unlawful to “mutilate, deface, or abuse” any monument that is publically owned by the state of Georgia. It also states that the monuments cannot be moved to anywhere but areas with similar prominence.
This bill likely evolved due to the recent protests over the past years against Confederate monuments, including citizens forcibly removing statues, street signs, or campaigning to have buildings named after Confederate figures changed. Some people see the preservation of these monuments as representative of oppression and racism. Many point out that there is no other war in which those considered traitors have been monumentalized and given memorials. The most prominent reason is that these statues are lasting reminders of a brutal history and lack of progress to acknowledge such. In fact, a large majority of such monuments were erected to serve the purpose of generating fear during the Civil Rights Movement. By protecting such monuments, Georgia is moving further into the past and away from progression.
The original law protecting Georgia statues was created in 2001 as part of a compromise to remove the Confederate state flag. According to the Georgia Code, the law speaks of the monuments as “a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state”. The state of Alabama passed similar legislation in 2017 that prohibited removal of buildings and memorials. Both Alabama’s and Georgia’s laws require those who vandalize or attempt to remove such monuments to pay fines for the damages done.
The question remaining is how does the public feel about Confederate monuments? Are they a symbol of southern heritage or are they a symbol of an era where freedom was not universal? In a poll by the HuffingtonPost in 2017, 49% of the public opposed removing the statues whereas the other half was in favor of, or did not care. Those in favor of removal tended to be Democrats or minorities, whereas those in opposition tended to be Republican or white. These poll numbers are not an entirely truthful representation; the article concludes that the polls may not perfectly reflect opinion as the numbers differed based on how the question was asked. There is a misconception that those who oppose the monuments want to see them destroyed, but the majority of those who favored the removal of such statues also supported relocating them to museums or historic sites. It is also important to note the percentage of those in support of the Confederate flag: 47% of Americans disapprove of displaying it publicly and only 34% approve. The support for the flag saw its most significant drop after the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.
When polls are compared over time, the percentage of Americans in support of the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments has continuously decreased over the past decade and will likely continue to do so. Younger individuals had a much lower approval rate of the monuments than older individuals.
Earlier this year Georgia House Bill 175 was created in response to SB 77, it sought to remove such monuments, even the “memorial graven upon the face of Stone Mountain”. Unfortunately, the bill never made it out of committee.
SB 77 leaves monuments up to state jurisdiction as opposed to local jurisdiction. It moves to actively protect monuments instead of addressing the issues behind them. The bill moves to silence those who may want to speak against the monuments or work towards having the removed or relocated. Arguably, the bill actively protects symbols of oppression. Groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans have shown their support for the bill, whereas groups such as the NAACP have shown their disapproval. The NAACP has responded to the bill on several occasions, citing the bills signal to people of color that “America has not repudiated racism”.
“No monument is history,” said the Atlanta branch of the NAACP, according to WABE.org. “There are historical places that should be recognized but to continue to celebrate Georgia’s role in the failed effort to maintain slavery as an institution speaks volumes about race relations in the state.”
Edwards-Levy, Ariel, and Ariel Edwards-Levy. “Polls Find Little Support For Confederate Statue Removal — But How You Ask Matters.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 24 Aug. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/confederate-statues-removal-polls_n_599de056e4b05710aa59841c.
Galloway, Jim. “The Georgia Law That Protects Stone Mountain, Other Confederate Monuments.” Ajc, Political Insider Blog, www.ajc.com/blog/politics/the-georgia-law-that-protects-stone-mountain-other-confederate-monuments/IIyMj6919d5JFo40QMS4RJ/.
“Georgia Senate Wants More Protection for Monuments.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, www.usnews.com/news/best-states/georgia/articles/2019-03-05/georgia-senate-wants-more-protection-for-monuments.
Gibson, Tyanna. “Georgia Legislature Considers Bill Protecting Confederate Monuments.” The Tiger’s Roar, 27 Mar. 2019, www.tigersroar.com/news/article_2dc5fce4-5095-11e9-9b1f-c7ef1c09b99b.html
“NAACP’S RESPONDS TO GEORGIA STATE SENATE’S DECISION TO PROTECT CONFEDERATE STATUES.” NAACP, 8 Mar. 2019, www.naacp.org/latest/naacps-responds-georgia-state-senates-decision-protect-confederate-statues/.
Scott, Roxanne. “Is Covering Confederate Monuments Free Speech? Georgia’s Neighbor May Think So.” 90.1 FM WABE, 15 Mar. 2019, www.wabe.org/are-covering-confederate-monuments-free-speech-georgias-neighbor-may-think-so/.