The Confederate memorial statue that has stood on the Bulloch County Courthouse Square for over 100 years will remain in place in spite of efforts by some to have the memorial moved.
Bulloch County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to leave the Italian marble statue on the southwest corner of the square, where it has stood since 1909, when the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected it as a memorial to area soldiers who lost lives in the Civil War.
A Georgia Southern University political science major initiated a recent effort to have the statue removed, claiming it is racially offensive and does not represent all of Bulloch County’s citizens. James Major Woodall, 21, spoke during previous meetings before commissioners, asking that a committee be formed to discuss the statue and the possibility of moving it to a location other than government property.
This led to significant opposition by many, including members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Ogeechee Rifles Camp 941 and members of the Georgia chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which actually claims ownership of the statue since the Bulloch County chapter of the group dissolved.
Woodall was present during the meeting, but did not speak, and later said he intentionally chose not to make a comment during the meeting. However, afterward, he expressed disappointment in the outcome.
"I'm disappointed by the vote of the Board of Commissioners to form a committee to look into the matter of the statue of the Confederate soldier,” he said. “This inaction on the part of the commissioners, though disheartening, will not limit nor deter the efforts of the citizens of this great community."
Tuesday’s meeting was the third consecutive commission meeting where the statue’s fate was discussed after Woodall’s initial approach to the matter. During a July 7 meeting, the commission chambers were filled to capacity, with a crowd lining the hallways outside, as people gathered to speak for or against moving the statue.
The heated meeting lasted for hours, with citizens lining up to speak, and passions flared as several supporters of the memorial entered the room carrying or wearing the Confederate “Union Jack” or battle flag. The flag bearers were peaceful, yet many in the room were offended and expressed discomfort due to the flag’s presence.
Georgia NAACP President and Statesboro attorney Francys Johnson, representing Woodall, drew gasps as he referred to the flag as the “Southern swastika,” and demanded the flags be removed. Commissioners resisted, citing First Amendment rights, but after Johnson pointed out that allowing the flag inside a county meeting would set a precedent where other flags, including “gay rights and anti-abortion flags,” would be allowed, commissioners asked the flag bearers to remove the flags from the room.
A second meeting July 21 drew more comments, pro and con, about removing the statue. Again, Woodall asked that a committee be formed to discuss the matter. Commissioners took no action during either meeting.
However, after hearing brief comments from Mike Mull, member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Ogeechee Rifles Camp 941, which refurbished and renovated the memorial statue at the group’s expense in 2012 and 2013, as well as from Judy Womack, president of the Georgia Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Commissioner Roy Thompson made a motion to leave the statue “As is, where it is.” The motion carried unanimously.
However, Commissioner Ray Mosely made a suggestion that the commission consider the formation of a committee to further review options regarding the memorial. Mull suggested earlier in the meeting that another memorial be placed elsewhere on the courthouse grounds that represents other community members.
Johnson did not attend the meeting, but afterward told the Statesboro Herald he was not satisfied with the decision.
“The NAACP firmly believes that as America moves towards a more just society, sincere truth and real reconciliation means having the courage to have difficult conversations about the ways we honor, celebrate and commemorate the past,” he said.
“Public calls including those from the NAACP are attempts to jumpstart long-overdue and now inclusive conversations about what belongs on courthouse lawns, state parks and public spaces. The Georgia NAACP believes that no issue in American history demands as much truth and reconciliation as the one we are currently engaged on race.
“The confederate monument is not as important as discussing ways to let freedom to truly ring out in a just criminal justice system; high functioning schools; fair share in our economy and unfettered access to the ballot,” he said.
Commissioner Walter Gibson said “I am not opposed to other monuments on the courthouse square. I think it would be very appropriate.”
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.