After years of legal wrangling, crews began moving two Confederate monuments from their downtown locations to a park along Riverside Drive on Wednesday morning.
Private money raised by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia will fund the removal of the two monuments, located on Cotton Avenue and Poplar Street, beginning Wednesday morning. Crews managed by the Macon Urban Development Authority will move the monuments to Whittle Park, a green space outside Rose Hill Cemetery on Riverside Drive.
Their removal is the culmination of years of efforts by Bibb County residents that were renewed over the summer of 2020. The Macon-Bibb County Commission approved the monuments’ move in July 2020, but a lawsuit stalled efforts.
The Cotton Avenue statue, which depicts an unnamed Confederate soldier, was defaced the same month, but Macon artists supporting the Black Lives Matter movement built a mural to protect it.
Once removed, the Cotton Avenue and Second Street area will become a gathering area for the community, according to UDA executive director Alex Morrison.
“A lot of vital businesses and residential areas are here and we want to expand this green space, which is a place that we think can be a signature place for people to congregate and communicate with each other right here on Cotton Avenue,” Morrison said. “[Our goal is] to create a better space from an urban design perspective that truly speaks to the intimate residential neighborhood it has become.
Morrison said Whittle Park was the statues’ final resting place.
“Our intention is that this will be the one and only time he moves,” he said.
History of monuments
The history of the monuments dates back to the 1800s. The Soldier Statue on Cotton Avenue was built in the late 1870s and originally stood on Mulberry Street before being moved to its location on Cotton Avenue in the 1970s. 1950.
Civil War documents, including a letter from Confederate President Jefferson Davis, were found inside a box at the bottom of the statue at one point and were eventually removed and copied.
Another time capsule was discovered on Wednesday after the statue was moved.
The Poplar Street monument was built by the Daughters of the Confederacy and bears the dates 1861-65, although the exact date of construction is not known. The statue was dedicated to “women of the South,” according to city documents.
These statues have held out against Macon for decades, but have become topics of debate in recent years.
Protest and resolution
The controversy surrounding the monuments, particularly the Cotton Avenue statue, came to a head in the summer of 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
“We’re not asking to put him in a dungeon. We are not asking that it be thrown into the Ocmulgee River. We are not asking that it be desecrated,” former Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis said during the 2020 protests. “We are asking that it be put in its place, and that is the cemetery of Rose Hill, where these soldiers are buried and where this belongs because he too died. That era is dead, dead and gone. Put it in the graveyard where it belongs.
Rose Hill Cemetery seemed like a great place for memorials because of the 884 Confederate soldiers buried there. Murals labeled with the slogan #BlockTheHate have been installed at the base of the statue to both protest and protect it. Demonstrations against the statues continued throughout the summer.
The protests prompted the Macon-Bibb County Commission in July 2020 to approve by a narrow 5-4 margin the moving of the memorials in Whittle Park out of Rose Hill Cemetery. Commissioner Virgil Watkins sponsored the original resolution that year, which ultimately resulted in the proposal which was approved on July 21.
The removal of the monuments quickly hit a roadblock later, however, after a lawsuit was filed protesting the relocation.
Maconite Martin Bell sued Bibb County and a judge granted Bell a temporary injunction in August 2020.
“I thought that was exactly how it would be, the law is very specific about what it requires,” Bell told The Telegraph at the time. “All the responses have been very, very positive, I haven’t heard any negative responses.”
Bell, along with attorney Walker Chandler, cited a Georgia law that limits where local governments can move Confederate statues. The law states that a Confederate monument must be moved to a location of “equal prominence.”
Over the next few months, complaints filed by Bell in federal court prevented the relocation. The case was returned to Bibb County in November after Bell dropped federal complaints.
A hearing was scheduled between Bell and the county in February 2021, but a motion to dismiss the case was granted to Macon-Bibb County last March.
‘The time has come’
Nearly two years after the county voted to move the monuments, they are finally moving. Some Masonites are happy to see them go.
“I’m glad it’s happening, it’s going to be fun,” said Trey Wood, an architect whose office building sits across from the Cotton Avenue statue. “The idea of moving to Rose Hill Cemetery makes perfect sense to me. I’m in favor of it.”
Ellis, who had long hoped the monuments would be moved from their location in the city centre, told The Telegraph on Tuesday by phone from Uganda that he was happy to hear of the statues being moved.
“I rejoice. … It’s the right thing to do,” the former Macon mayor said. “The time has come.”
Ellis also said the new location was more appropriate, near a “place of reverence” at Rose Hill Cemetery.
The Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy also approved the move, according to Morrison and the UDA. The groups reached a compromise with the county in terms of location.
The site just outside Rose Hill Cemetery consists of two base concrete platforms on a hill approaching Riverside Drive. The statues will reside near the side of the cemetery that slopes down to the Ocmulgee River and house the graves of Confederate soldiers, as well as a Civil War marker.
The Telegraph archives and the work of Telegraph journalist Joe Kovac Jr. were used in this story.
This story was originally published June 22, 2022 5:00 a.m.