If you’ve ever set foot in Decatur Square, home to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, The Iberian Pig and a cute, touristy gazebo, you’ve been in view of the so-called “Lost Cause” monument. Standing directly in the back of the old DeKalb County Courthouse, the monument commemorates fallen Confederate soldiers who “were of a covenant keeping race who held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the Republic.”
The obelisk was erected in 1908 by “the men and women and children of DeKalb County” decades after the Civil War and two years after deadly race riots plagued Atlanta. This does more than simply commemorate Confederate soldiers; it’s a monument to current-day racism.
The Lost Cause monument stood as a symbol of conservative, white supremacist views at the height of the Jim Crow era. The symbols with which we adorn our public spaces should reflect the core ideals of the United States. Racism — and the idolization of those who defended it — cannot be among them. Some conservatives voice concerns of a slippery slope phenomenon, which could lead to the demonization of America’s leaders and founders like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.
While that argument is often used to defend racist statues, it holds some credence. The history of our country is riddled with inequality and oppression — we cannot erase all evidence of our past, nor should we try. We draw the line at the legacy of the individual or cause memorialized.
Despite the fact that Jefferson was a slaveowner, he, for example, is remembered as a core writer of the Declaration of Independence and as one of America’s first great politicians. In contrast, the Lost Cause monument exclusively venerates the Confederate spirit — a supremacist ideology that stands for oppression and slavery. Just as importantly, we must consider the intent and context of construction.
The Lost Cause monument was erected more than four decades after the end of the Civil War and served as a rallying point for those committed to the “lost cause” of the Confederacy. We cannot allow a monument dedicated to the institution of white supremacy to guard a building that symbolizes our justice system.
DeKalb County may be unable to remove the monument because of a 2010 state law that prohibits the removal or relocation of public monuments. But the state of Georgia should amend the law, relocate the monument to a museum and carefully reassess which parts of its history to celebrate.
The Editorial Board is composed of Jennifer Katz, Madeline Lutwyche and Boris Niyonzima.