Former Democratic governor who led push to change Georgia flag says Confederate symbols need to be put in historical context

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, who led the charge to change the state flag to remove a Confederate symbol, stopped short of calling for Confederate monuments to come down but said there needs to be a “complete history” of slavery and the Civil War to put them in context. An Augusta state senator said he would like to see that decision-making power in the hands of local governments.

 

In a column posted Tuesday on his law firm’s website, Barnes denounced President Trump’s equivocation of white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va., as giving “comfort to the enemies of freedom. His push to change the state flag helped lead to his defeat in 2002 by Republican Sonny Perdue. No Democrat has been elected governor since his defeat.

“Our national leader failed miserably in his responsibility to rise to the occasion and articulate the premise ingrained in our national ethos that all men are in fact created equal,” Barnes wrote. “He did not appeal to the better side of us. His action is a sad commentary of the failure to be a constructive solution to race hatred.”

The Charlottesville rally was prompted by that city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and has since sparked renewed efforts around the country to remove Confederate symbols, including in Georgia and in Augusta. The local chapter of the NAACP will hold a rally Thursday at the Confederate memorial on Broad Street as part of its efforts to remove it.

Barnes said his “answer to that question is more nuanced.” Removing the Confederate banner in 2001, which was made part of the state flag in 1956 in apparent defiance to the civil Civil Rights movement, “was not only the right thing to do, it saved Georgia from having its official state symbol being the same as that which incited Dylann Roof on his rampage through a (Charleston, S.C.,) church killing nine African-American worshippers,” Barnes wrote.

He favored changing the name of Confederate Avenue in Atlanta because the Georgia Department of Public Safety is situated there and it “sends the wrong message that the police power of the state is located on a street associated with slavery and suppression.”

favored changing the name of Confederate Avenue in Atlanta because the Georgia Department of Public Safety is situated there and it “sends the wrong message that the police power of the state is located on a street associated with slavery and suppression.”

 

But he said the Confederate generals carved into the side of Stone Mountain “shouldn’t be blown off the side of Stone Mountain, but there should be a telling of the story in truthful terms and not the mythical terms of Gone With he Wind. Truth is truth and only the complete history should be told. We should examine each of the memorials and street names in this context.”

The truth should be told that slavery was “not benevolent and slaves were not extended members of the family,” Barnes wrote. “Slavery was a cruel, violent and demeaning institution, which is our national shame. And those who deny the Civil War was fought as an effort by the South to maintain slavery are spreading a myth which further distorts the true course of history. Though our forefathers may have fought bravely, they fought for the wrong cause.”

The Confederate memorial should “be a teaching point on how good intentioned people can become so blind in their views that blood is shed,” he wrote. “The memorials should not all be destroyed or taken down, but the full story should be told. They should be a constant reminder that politicians appealing to passion laced with race can lead to disaster and scar a nation for generations. In the current state of politics no lesson could be needed more.”

State Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, said he has not been approached about changing a 2001 state law, which he thought might have been part of the compromise for changing the state’s flag, that protects all veteran memorials from being moved or changed. But he opposed the racial divisiveness that prompted the original Charlottesville protesters and said Georgia is an example of where such efforts have failed.

“We’re all working together,” Newton said.

State Sen. Harold Jones II, D-Augusta, said the issue is important and he would favor changing the state law to allow local governments to decide whether to keep or remove the monuments, and some might never take up the issue. Right now, state law preempts those governments from having a meaningful discussion about the issue, he said.

“To have an effective conversation it would have to be at the local level,” Jones said. “But you really can’t start that conversation if you don’t have the potential of even voting for something. It is more difficult to do that. I think the local governments should look at their own monuments and make their determinations.”

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

In anticipation of a rally Thursday at the Confederate monument in the 700 blockof Broad Street, both sides of the street in that block will be closed at 5:30 p.m., the Richmond CountySheriff’s Office said in a tweet Tuesday.

The Augusta chapter of the NAACP has a permit to hold the rally at the monument at 6 p.m. The group iscalling for the monument to be removed.

The sheriff’s office said it hoped to have the streets reopened by 8:30 p.m. when presumably the rally will be over.

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