Capitol artwork honors white supremacist politicians

Once they clear the north entrance metal detectors, one of the first works of art visitors to the Georgia Capitol see is an imposing statue of Benjamin Hill.

Hill was a member of the U.S. House and Senate in the late-19th century, but he also served as a Confederate senator for the duration of the Civil War. The inscription on his statue reads, in part, “He was at all times the champion of human liberty.”

Too long for an inscription? Sen. Benjamin Hill's words look harsh to modern eyes.

Too long for an inscription? Sen. Benjamin Hill’s words look harsh to modern eyes.

Not included would be this direct quote from an 1865 speech Hill made in LaGrange in an attempt to drum up support for the Confederacy’s flagging efforts:

“The Negro, of himself, can never make, administer or execute laws for the white man. His intellect is not equal to the task of either supremacy or equality.”

Hill is one of dozens of Confederate or segregationist politicians honored at the Capitol with a statue or painting (some, like Hill, have both). Usually that artwork carries with it little context about who the person was or what they believed. Sometimes they are only identified by name.

They certainly do not carry with them their words and deeds that robbed people of their civil rights or supported vigilante violence.

Across the country, the propriety of honoring these historical figure or displaying their symbols has again come up for debate, sparked by the June massacre of black church members in Charleston by an avowed white supremacist.

For instance, the University of Texas recently hauled off a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the Atlanta NAACP has called on Gov. Nathan Deal to wipe clean the Confederate monument at Stone Mountain.

Heck, even golfer and UGA alum Bubba Watson announced he was painting over the Confederate flag atop the “General Lee” — the iconic car from the TV series “The Dukes of Hazzard” which the Masters champ bought at auction.

The massive assemblage of Capitol artwork honoring white supremacists from Georgia’s past has been sporadically debated over the past four decades but has not factored in the current conversation. My AJC story takes a look at who is honored at the seat of state government and the legislative efforts lawmakers have taken to either protect them or address the imbalance in the state collection. You can also vote on which statues and artifacts you’d keep, and which ones you’d take down in our online poll.


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