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Statue issue revisited; no action
County commission hears more public input on Confederate monument
W 072115 MONUMENT DEBATE 01
Local attorney and State President of the Georgia NAACP Francys Johnson, left, and Sons of Confederate Veterans member Mike Sorrell have a one-on-one discussion after both made public comments concerning the future of the Confederate soldier monument on the courthouse grounds during the Bulloch County Commission Tuesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Tuesday, Bulloch County commissioners once again heard citizens' views regarding a proposal to move a Confederate memorial statue from the county courthouse square, but still they took no action.

    Supporters want the statue left as it is. Those who don't hope to form a committee to discuss options for the memorial's proposed removal.

    During a July 7 Bulloch County Commission meeting, held at 5:30 p.m., the meeting room at the Bulloch County Annex was overflowing, with some standing in hallways, and people lined up to speak about the statue's future.

    That meeting became heated when discussion turned toward the Confederate flag, and many were asked to remove such flags from the meeting, but Tuesday's meeting was much more controlled. Speakers were passionate yet more reserved in airing their opinions.

    James "Major" Woodall, a 21-year-old Georgia Southern University student majoring in political science, started the controversy in June when he drafted a petition to remove the statue honoring Bulloch County soldiers who died in the war.

    Others, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans Ogeechee Rifles Camp 941, filed countering petitions.

    Woodall and his supporters claim the statue does not represent all Bulloch County residents, stands as a reminder of times when blacks were oppressed and mistreated and is offensive to some. He said he feels the statue should be moved from county-owned property to another location.

    Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have said the statue does represent all races who died in the Civil War and should not offend anyone, as it honors a true history.

    While the SCV "adopted" the statue, spending more than $20,000 to renovate it a few years ago, it does not belong to them nor the county, said Judy Womack, president of the Georgia division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Instead, she said, it belongs to the state division of the UDC, as the Bulloch County chapter of the group has dissolved. She asked commissioners Tuesday to leave the monument on the courthouse square because it would be expensive to move and because "such monuments are our legacy."

    Mike Mull, member and past commander of the SCV Ogeechee Rifles Camp 941, said Tuesday that the statue is "a landmark and testament to the fortitude of all residents of Bulloch County following the aftermath of the War Between the States."

    But Adrianne McCollar pointed out that the statue was erected just five years after two black men were "dragged out of the courthouse, burned alive and hung" and that black citizens in the county likely did not feel then that the statue represented them at all. Many feel the same way today, she said.

    "People were oppressed and silenced by hatred," McCollar said.

    She also questioned a state law that protects memorials, saying she interprets the law to cover only state-owned memorials. Mull countered, claiming that the law prevents anyone from defacing, moving or tampering with a memorial.

    Mike Sorrell, another SCV member, chimed in on the issue.

    "State legislature has the only authority to do anything to a monument," he said.

    Pearl Brown, president of the Bulloch County chapter of the NAACP, said the statue only symbolizes and accents other issues in the community, such as inequality in education and employment.

    "We all know in our hearts what is right and what is wrong," she said.

    The NAACP "doesn't support the destruction of historical monuments, period," said Francys Johnson, a local attorney and president of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP. He acknowledged that the SCV protests moving the statue partially because of the risk of damage and suggested that the statue could pose a danger to the public if it were in such condition.

    Sorrell said it is not a danger and is in better shape than ever after the SCV restored it, but to move it would be costly and would pose a risk to its structure.

    "I understand the perspectives that have been put forth," Woodall said.

    However, he spoke of observing a KKK rally recently in Alabama, where "rebel flags" were flown and white supremacists used the Confederate flag as their icon. He compared that incident to people showing support of the flag and the statue of a Confederate soldier.

    "If that's the kind of people we want to associate with, we have deeper issues," Woodall said.

    Mull stood firm on the SCV's stance regarding the statue. He and Sorrell each suggested that another memorial be placed on one of the remaining three corners of the property to recognize and honor the accomplishments of successful black Bulloch County residents.

    "We will hold our ground on this issue until hell freezes over, and then we will meet you on the other side," Mull said.

    Neither commission Chairman Garrett Nevil, Vice Chairman Roy Thompson nor Commissioners Ray Mosley and Carolyn Etheridge commented on the matter. Commissioners Robert Rushing, Anthony Simmons and Walter Gibson did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

 

            Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

 

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