Proposals for contextualizing marker for Confederate soldier memorial at the courthouse
To read the original proposal by Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center, click here.
To read the alternative proposal by Mike Mull, Commander, SCV Ogeechee Rifles Camp #941, click here.
To read the revised proposal by Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center, click here.
Bulloch County commissioners and staff have received a proposal from the Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center for a contextualizing sign for the Confederate soldier memorial at the courthouse and a counterproposal from local Sons of Confederate Veterans leader Mike Mull.
When Dr. Alvin Jackson, president of the Willow Hill Center’s board, and the Rev. Jane Page, a co-chair of its Marker and Monument Committee, unveiled the center’s proposal during a Black Lives Matter rally at the courthouse June 6, the model sign included a footnote stating that this was a request to the Bulloch County Historical Society. However, members of the Willow Hill group quickly decided that the request was more appropriately directed to the county commissioners, Jackson said Monday.
“We thought that going through the Bulloch County commissioners would be better because the state of Georgia and the commissioners both had laws in place that impacted on what we were trying to accomplish, which is eventually we'd love to see the statue removed,” Jackson said. “But because of those particular laws, we thought we would work through them to get the contextual piece and then, after that initiative, we can then think for the long-range of eventually having that removed.”
After nine people were killed at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, by Dylan Roof, a white supremacist, in 2015, the statue on the Bulloch County courthouse grounds was one of many Confederate monuments that activists targeted for removal. James Woodall, then a Georgia Southern University student and now Georgia State Conference president of the NAACP, led a petition drive calling for the statue to come down. However, after hearing passionate arguments on both sides in July 2015, the commissioners voted unanimously that August to leave it in place.
Law and policy
A Georgia law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019 prohibits local governments from removing or altering war memorials on public land, including but not limited to Civil War monuments. A 2017 Bulloch County policy revision – not actually a law – prohibits adding permanent monuments or signs on the courthouse grounds unless the commissioners decide that these are “deemed necessary” for the courthouse’s official functioning.
The wording of the proposed contextual marker was made public during the largest of several local demonstrations following recent nationally publicized killings of black Americans by police and vigilantes. But the Marker and Monument Committee, formed as part of the Willow Hill Center’s Commemoration of 400 years of African-American History, 1619-2019, had started planning for such a marker more than a year ago.
In a note to county officials last week, the Willow Hill group suggested the marker would be a joint project with the county government.
One passage from that note states: “The growing awareness of the importance of reconciliation is underscored in the weeks of civil unrest … in the wake of the murders of Amhaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and George Floyd among so many others. Future generations will judge the work we engage and/or ignore. As such, both our organizations must do the difficult work of telling the whole story of Georgia.”
As reported June 9, the wording for the marker as originally proposed began:
“In 1909, this monument was erected at the Bulloch County Courthouse to glorify the ‘lost cause’ of the Confederacy and the Confederate soldiers who fought for it. It was privately funded by Statesboro Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
“Located in a prominent public space, its presence bolstered white supremacy and faulty history, suggesting that the cause for the Civil War rested on southern Honor and States Rights rhetoric – instead of its real catalyst – American slavery. This monument and similar ones also were created to intimidate African Americans and limit their full participation in social and political life of their communities. It fostered a culture of segregation …”
That central paragraph was in bold type in the original.
About two weeks ago, Mull, current commander of Ogeechee Rifles Camp 941, Sons of Confederate Veterans and a past acting state division commander, met Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson and gave him a counterproposal.
Some county officials referred to this the SCV group’s proposal. Phoned earlier this week, Mull said the wording was his alone, as he had not presented it to the Ogeechee Rifles Camp for adoption, but intended to do so.
Mull’s wording leaves much of the Willow Hill proposal intact, but adds attributions and other phrases such as, “what some call the ‘Lost Cause’ of the Confederate States of America and the citizen-soldiers of Bulloch County,” and “some felt then and believe now … .”
He also changed “Civil War” to “War Between the States.” The central passage then begins, “Located in a prominent public space, some felt then and believe now its presence bolstered white supremacy and contentious history, suggesting the cause for the War Between the States rested on Southern honor, state's rights and inequitable taxation instead of what many today believe to have been the real catalys – the forced servitude of African-Americans: slavery. …”
"We did a little changing in the wording, nothing really major," Mull said. "The version that the Willow Hill group submitted, it gave the impression that the opinions expressed on that contextualized marker were those of the entire population of the county and of the entire Bulloch County Commission, and so we went back and we put in the proper context denoting that it was their opinion that was expressed on that marker."
Of course, he wants the soldier monument to remain in place.
"Let me put it this way,” Mull said. “I've read the inscription that is on the monument up there. I've read it from all sides, and nowhere up there on that monument does it mention the word 'slave' or 'slavery.' The front of the monument, that's the side that is facing south, it says, 'Comrades; in Memory of the Confederate soldiers 1861 to 1865.' It says what it represents. Anything added to that would only reflect the opinion of some today.”
The west side has a short verse including the lines, “how many a glorious name for us,” and “how many a story of fame for us.”
The Willow Hill group rejected Mull’s attributions to what “some felt then and believe now” and “what many today believe.”
"We found that unacceptable. It was similar to what the president said at Charlottesville, 'Good people on both sides,' sort of like that," Jackson said.
But Jackson and Page returned a slightly amended version of the original proposal to Thompson that includes a few words from Mull’s version. For example, it now allows that the monument was meant to glorify “and honor” the lost cause and the Confederate soldiers “of Bulloch County.”
Thompson and the two African American members of the elected county board, Commissioner Ray Mosley and Commissioner Anthony Simmons, along with County Manager Tom Couch and County Attorney Jeff Akins, met with Jackson and Page last week. At the beginning of this week, Thompson said commissioners would consider both versions.
"We are looking at both of them,” he said. “We have not come to a decision at all at the present time. We know that it's a decision that we're going to have to make, you know, really whether to accept either one of them. But I feel confident that we can and hopefully work it out for the monument to remain in place."
After seeing the slightly revised version from the Willow Hill group, Thompson said he might consider it the final version. Three versions – the original from Willow Hill, Mull’s counterproposal and the Willow Hill revision – are being posted online at www.statesboroherald.com.
Thompson said he would be polling the commissioners to see how soon they want the question on the agenda, but that he thought the 5:30 p.m. July 7 regular meeting would be too soon.
The wording from the Willow Hill group was based closely on that of a marker placed last September beside a Confederate monument in DeKalb County. The monument in Decatur was removed last week under a judge’s order based on the DeKalb government’s claim that it posed a danger to public safety.
Bulloch County Commissioner Ray Mosley, a member of the Willow Hill Center’s general advisory committee, said he is optimistic that the marker here will be approved.
"I'm very optimistic that we'll be able to get something worked out once all the details are worked out," Mosley said. “ I feel very strongly that something along this line is should be done because the nation needs healing and our county needs healing, and more than anything else, I think, let's get education out there.”
But the Willow Hill group makes no secret that its ultimate goal is removal of the statue, and Mosley is no exception.
“My stance on it is we need to communicate and have the community education so that it can be removed in a peaceful manner,” he said.