ATLANTA — A part of the mystery of the missing historic plaque on Broad Street in Augusta has been solved by a spokeswoman of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, who acknowledged Wednesday that the agency removed it in summer after a single complaint.
Senior agency officials learned of the removal Tuesday when questioned by a reporter. Their investigation determined that members of the Historic Preservation Division staff who got the complaint decided among themselves to remove it to Mistletoe State Park, where it is stored.
A review of all historic markers in 2001 had singled out the Augusta tablet as having wording that could be especially offensive to modern readers, but there was no funding at the time to address it. The plaque contains a quote from a letter by British author William Makepeace Thackeray recounting a visit to Augusta in 1856 for a lecture.
In the quote, he wrote, “… slavery nowhere repulsive, the black faces invariably happy and plump …”
The Georgia Historical Commission, which is now DNR’s Historic Preservation Division, erected the plaque in 1954 in the 700 block of Broad Street, where Thackeray, the author of Vanity Fair, had spoken.
Lauren Curry, DNR’s communications director, said that in the 12 hours since the reporter’s questions brought the issue to light, the agency’s senior officials had decided to find funding to replace the marker, without the excerpt about slavery, so that Thackeray’s visit will still be featured. DNR had already drafted that wording after its 2001 review.
“The department is looking at what is the policy and possibly putting in a new policy where there is a more robust review when there is a complaint,” Curry said.
That policy might require a minimum number of staffers to consider complaints. She also said no one in the agency recalls the removal of other markers because of complaints.
The complaint about Thackeray’s quote came from Marin Rose Correa in May. She had just moved to Augusta several months earlier with her husband who is on duty at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center.
“Just because I’m not from Augusta, I’m still an American citizen, and I have an opinion,” Correa said. “The community should be happy it’s gone.”
Correa said she was told by someone at DNR that she was not the first to complain about that tablet. She has no objection to replacing it to commemorate Thackeray’s visit without the reference to slaves, she said.
“Typically it takes three to four months to manufacture a marker, depending on how busy the foundry is,” said David Crass, the director of the Historical Preservation Division. “I don’t have a precise cost yet, but would estimate it to be in the $3,000 to $3,500 range.”
Word of the tablet’s removal came to light shortly after news that the state is moving the statue of a segregationist politician and editor, Tom Watson. It sits squarely in the middle of the walkway to the main doors of the Capitol in Atlanta.