NAACP will protest GA city’s ‘white and fair’ Confederate monument

(TODD BENNETT / AUGUSTA CHRONICLE)

A Georgia NAACP branch will hold a rally to demand removal of one of the state’s most defiant pro-Confederacy memorials outside of Stone Mountain: a 76-foot spire in downtown Augusta bearing the inscription, “No nation rose so white and fair. None fell so pure of crime.”

Last week, in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va., Georgia’s NAACP conference called on Gov. Nathan Deal and the state legislature to remove all confederate symbols from public property. Similar displays, erected during the reign of Jim Crow, have been removed, toppled or concealed in cities spanning from Maryland to Florida to Texas. In metro Atlanta, politicians and activists have called for removal of the Stone Mountain carving, an obelisk in Decatur, a flag in Kennesaw, and a statue in McDonough.

Members of Augusta’s NAACP branch, as well as a consortium of church leaders, will gather at the base of their city’s monument in the Broad Street medium at 6 p.m. on Thursday, The Augusta Chronicle reports. They want it either relocated or demolished.

Standing atop the Augusta memorial’s marble shaft is Berry Benson, known locally as the “man on the monument.” After surviving the war as a Confederate soldier, Benson went on to defend Leo Frank and helped expose the first Ponzi scheme. (SEAN MOORES / AUGUSTA CHRONICLE)

The “white and fair” passage comes from an English poet’s tribute to Robert E. Lee, whose statue is perched on one corner of the monument along with the likenesses of generals Stonewall Jackson, Thomas R.R. Cobb and William H.T. Walker. High above them all is another statue of local enlisted solider Berry Benson, clutching the rifle he never gave up, since he refused to attend Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

There would, of course, be major hurdles to pulling them all down. Like other states, Georgia has a law barring removal of Civil War memorials, which would have to be repealed. Protests would be inevitable. And The Augusta Chronicle reports there is little to zero political will to disturb the monument, even among Augusta’s majority-black leadership:

“You ought to let sleeping dogs sleep,” said Commissioner Marion Williams, one of the six African-Americans on the 10-member commission. “When you get that type of conversation started, it doesn’t help. We talk at it, we don’t talk about it” and ultimately, “it’s going to result in some violence.”

Another black Commissioner, Dennis Williams, said the issue posed a challenge for some politicians.

“It’s one of those things, no matter which way you stand, you’re on the wrong side with somebody,” Williams said.

Williams, a former NAACP branch president, said he will attend the rally Thursday but does not support removing the monument.

“Personally I don’t have a problem with the monument,” he said. “I understood what the monuments were for – those are symbols of past history and hopefully a constant reminder to our community never to allow our community to get in that type of situation again.”

Augusta’s mayor, Hardie Davis, has yet to weigh in. Last week, another black commissioner, Sammie Sias, told the AJC that he didn’t even know the monument bore the “white and fair” inscription.

“It’s never been worth my time or effort to even know what was there, or even care about that monument,” Sias said. “I was dealing with real issues, and I haven’t seen or heard of any groups down there trying to use that monument up in our face.

“I’m not saying it’s not in our face,” he said, “but it’s just that it’s never had enough credit for my attention.”


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