Special to the Herald
If you visit any Southern county seat, you likely will see a courthouse in the square with one monument on its grounds: a Confederate soldier.
These statues are emblems of something that happened in history, so their defenders maintain that we should leave them up. Critics point out that some of the Confederate memorials in the South were erected well after the war ended to intimidate Black citizens and those erected in the late 1950s or 1960s were put up when these areas were trying to resist the Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court mandating school integration, “with all deliberate speed.”
Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans proclaim that the statues stand for “heritage, not hatred,” like the old Georgia state flag that flew from 1956-2001, and honor their ancestors who fought in a war. The flag was changed to celebrate the centennial of the War Between the States, and racism had nothing to do with the flag, they argue.
The centennial was in 1961, however, and in February 1956, Georgia changed its state flag, which already contained a Confederate symbol, to incorporate the Confederate battle flag.
Governor Marvin Griffin gave an address to a joint session of the legislature during the same month and asked for six specific legislative bills to fight against integration. The Georgia General Assembly passed all of his requested legislation and additionally prohibited state funds from going to integrated schools, matching legislation they had passed in 1951 barring state funds from integrated colleges.
The resolution nullifying the effects of Brown vs. Board of Education passed the Georgia General Assembly in March 1956 by a vote of 179 to 1.
Getting back to the statues, what is wrong with a town like Statesboro putting up a statue on its courthouse grounds? The people of Statesboro, through their elected representatives, erected it in 1911, so it was not put up to defy integration orders. The United Daughters of the Confederacy raised funds for this statue to honor the veterans who were still alive.
If our values have changed since then, and we want to honor other people, maybe we should put up another statue nearby on the courthouse grounds. While our state has a disgraceful past of defying the Brown vs. Board of Education decision and practicing slavery, most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves and the statues were erected only to honor the war veterans.
I ask Statesboro, “where is my statue? I served in Iraq from May 2005 to May 2006 with the Georgia National Guard and worked over 20 years in armories in Calhoun, Canton, Forsyth, Griffin, Hinesville, Macon and Statesboro.
In 2009, the 48th Brigade based in Statesboro went to Afghanistan. Some of our soldiers, including the officer who put on my Captain rank, came home in body bags from Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the towns where I have served, I am only aware of a public monument to War on Terror veterans in Griffin. Calhoun and Statesboro have War on Terror monuments on the grounds of their National Guard armories, but the courthouses remain the exclusive property of Johnny Reb.
Griffin, Ga., honors its veterans perfectly, in my opinion. Griffin has a small Veterans Memorial Park next to the cemetery, so there are no statues on the courthouse grounds. The monuments honor the veterans of every war dating back to the Revolution. A Confederate soldier stands near a Doughboy statue from World War I and memorial walls list the names of the dead from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Each monument is unique and no veterans are excluded.
A few years ago, Griffin dedicated a War on Terror monument and the company commander from my Iraq deployment was there to greet the bereaved families of Griffin’s two fallen heroes from the fighting around Mahmudiyah, Iraq.
The problem with the Southern towns that only have one Confederate monument is that they exclude their veterans who fought for the United States of America. My Confederate ancestors from the 46th Alabama Infantry and the 3rd South Carolina Infantry have statues in their honor. My grandfather fought in Korea as an engineer officer from 1952-1953, and I earned a Combat Action Badge in Iraq for coming under mortar and IED fire.
I maintain that we deserve the same reverence from our home towns as Confederate veterans. Statesboro, has two public veterans monuments. A Confederate statue stands on a pedestal by the courthouse on the square and a small marker about the size of a headstone honors World War II veterans at Honey Bowen Park.
The World War II monument is so small, most visitors to the park are unaware of its presence. Why does Statesboro consider Confederate veterans to be so much more honorable than World War II veterans?
I do not know, but the fact is undeniable that Statesboro honors its Confederate veterans more than its veterans from other wars. Statesboro should either add statues of equal size dedicated to veterans of each of our other wars to the courthouse grounds or move Johnny Reb to a park with other war memorials.
The Statesboro Armory contains an impressive museum, with historical pictures, unit Colors, and a small monument to our dead from the War on Terror. The Confederate statue belongs on the armory grounds...and he needs to have company.
Hugh Henry is a retired Army veteran, school teacher, and amateur actor, having performed on the Averitt Center stage in three plays. A native of Rock Hill, South Carolina, he is now a Statesboro resident and has lived in Georgia since 1992.