A rally called by the Augusta NAACP to remove the monument on Broad Street was peaceful, resulted in no arrest or injuries, but brought together more than 200 people on both sides of the issue.
Some even found common ground.
As crowds gathered, Beulah Nash-Teachey, the NAACP chapter president for Augusta, walked two young women to the north face of the downtown monument to read one of the more controversial parts of its inscription: “No nation rose so white and fair, None fell so pure of crime.”
Danielle Anderson, 25, said after reading the inscription and talking with Nash-Teachey, she now understands the NAACP’s petition to remove it.
“I never paid attention to it until now,” she said. “I came to see what this was all about and now that I know the reason, it makes sense.”
The local rally was prompted by recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12 by that city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The Georgia NAACP called for the removal of all Confederate symbols from state and local properties last week. Nash-Teachey was hesitant about the state chapter’s call to remove the symbols, but reconsidered because she believed the time was right.
Built by the Markwalter firm of Augusta, the monument includes a 72-foot-tall Carrara marble shaft sitting on a four-foot Georgia granite base. Each corner of the base supports a marble statue of a Confederate general: Lee and Stonewall Jackson, representing the South; Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, representing Georgia; and William Henry Talbot Walker, representing Augusta and Richmond County. A group called the Ladies Memorial Association of Augusta raised $20,934.04 to erect the monument, which was dedicated Oct. 31, 1877
The rally, which began shortly after 6 p.m., opened with a prayer and music as crowds stomped, clapped and sang along to Amazing Grace.
Speakers followed, but, at one point, the rally was interrupted by Ray Montana, of CSRA Street Justice Coalition, who loudly chanted “Humanity over race,” and encouraged others to do the same.
Chants that started to erupt prompted Richmond County Sheriff Richard Rountree and his deputies to move Montana and supporters away from the rally. He said he was familiar with the group and decided to remove them to avoid escalation of tensions.
“That wasn’t right ‘cause he didn’t have a permit,” Roundtree said.
The sheriff denied at least one other group seeking a permit to rally Wednesday because it didn’t apply in time. The group was the Nationalist Liberation Union, a white nationalist group, according to a spokesman for the organization.
The sheriff’s office took special measures to ensure safety. It blocked off the 700 block of Broad Street, put barriers to stop cars from entering nearby parking bays, brought K-9s and had undercover officers mingling among the crowd.
Roundtree said he was pleased the rally was peaceful.
“The opposition showed that a city can come together with separate minds,” he said. “They should be proud of what they accomplished today.”
Montana didn’t think so. He said after Thursday’s rally, he felt “it was not passionate enough.”
One of the rally’s speakers, Trent Nesmith, told his story of being a descendant of a Confederate soldier, but believed the monument needed to come down. Nesmith is co-owner of a construction company and an announced Democratic candidate for Congress from the 12th District, which includes Augusta and part of Columbia County.
“We are standing in front of a monument that identifies with white supremacy,” he said.
In the crowd, blacks and whites continued the discussion about whether it should be removed.
Ray Masters, a retired worker for the state Department of Transportation, approached one of the rally speakers, John McCrosky of Augusta Indivisible, and was told to move away by a plainclothes policeman. Asked what he said to McCrosky, Masters replied, “I told him he was wrong.”
Masters said his grandfather was born under the Confederacy and that the monument “is part of my country.” He wondered aloud why rally participants “want to divide us,” and blamed “Hillary, the Democrats and Obama.”
Pointing to Jasmine Moore, a young woman standing nearby, he said, “That young lady has never been a slave and I have never owned a slave.”
That started a conversation.
Masters pointed to the monument and said, “That does not stand for hate.”
Moore won’t go that far and reminded him of “that whole slavery thing.”
“I love black people,” Masters insisted and Moore, it turns out, didn’t think the monument should necessarily be demolished.
That surprised him and the banter between the two softened. He extended a hand, she shook it, then they hugged.
The last speaker, the Rev. Melvin Ivey of Greater St. John Baptist Church, said the effort to remove symbols of the Confederacy is a national movement, “not just Augusta.”
He said the NAACP would put together a committee to “bring the true facts about Confederate memorials and why they are here.”
“This is Step 1. You have made history tonight and it will come down,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
Mayor Hardie Davis said his office had not yet received a petition from the NAACP about removing the monument and that “state law will drive the conversation.”
State law forbids moving, changing or obscuring any memorial to military veterans. But Davis said members of Augusta’s legislative delegation were at the rally and “that’s a conversation that started today.”
State Rep. Gloria Frazier of Augusta said in a statement the statue should not be on public property.
“There is no room for visual reminders of a past rooted in bigotry; therefore, these monuments should be removed from every facet of our city and placed in one of Georgia’s historic memorial sites for viewing,” she said. “This is not about race; it is about moving Augusta into a new age of positive growth through economic development and innovation. Augusta is well on its way to becoming a major leading in one of the fastest growing industries of the century. Let us put our dark past behind us, and step into a new age of innovation and upward mobility.”
Sen. Harold Jones, another Democratic state legislator, said Augusta legislators “want to make it happen, but it would take community support.”
After the rally, Davis praised participants for keeping their cool on a stifling August afternoon.
“Today was a demonstration of moderation and we’re happy with that,” he said. “That’s the spirit of democracy. We will engage in a robust debate.”