Creating Necessary Conversation Through the Decatur Obelisk

For as long as I can remember, Confederate memorials have dotted Southern public property. Cornerstones of my childhood in Georgia included watching the laser shows at Stone Mountain and hearing family members wax poetic about statues erected in public squares or in front of city courthouses. It never occurred to me as a child that these landmarks could be as blasphemous to true American culture as burning the star-spangled banner. But as an adult, I can no longer ignore how many Southerners continue to cling desperately to their idols of “heritage.” A civil war of conversation and debate now brews among us about whether or not we ought to keep these un-American idols on display.

I am of the crowd that says: No, get it off my lawn.

The prevalence and existence of multiple Confederate memorials on public property has been called into question. David A. Graham’s article for The Atlantic examines both sides of the coin and their effects on the South. He notes that “the concerns about erasure” of Southern heritage and history “remain perhaps the most potent objection” to the removal of Confederate monuments on public property. The flipside declares removal is an integral part of telling the true story of the Civil War while ending the romanticizing of the long-dead Confederacy—whose dried bones ought to stay buried.

DeKalb County CourthouseOne recent example hits very close to home. The Decatur Obelisk has made headlines across multiple news outlets, including the Atlanta Journal Constitution, for the better part of 2017. As early as May of last year, Decaturish published a letter from one Brian Kammer, in which the writer dubbed the monument the “Lost Cause Obelisk.” The letter describes the maddening inscriptions on the monument, which include “that these men [Confederate soldiers] were of a covenant keeping race,” and “that the Constitution is the evidence of the covenant…As an American, it infuriates me that the Constitution governing myself and other Americans of various ethnicities is referred to as “evidence” of such a racist covenant. As a Southerner, I am embarrassed that this tribute to blatant racism has been allowed to exist in a public space for so long.

As the war about Confederate monuments escalated with the summer heat, so did the calls for removal of the Lost Cause Obelisk. Incidents of vandalism and angry letters both for and against the removal escalated while officials struggled to make a decision. The response from the surrounding community calling for its removal was overwhelmingly positive. An AJC article described a march of over 300 people, and a petition of over 2,400 signatures commanded DeKalb “dismantle white supremacy.”

Thankfully, the 109-year-old testament to racism will not win. Mark Niesse from the AJC reports that a 6-1 vote orders “the county’s attorneys to find a legal way to remove or relocate the 30-foot obelisk located outside the former county courthouse in Decatur.” While the Lost Cause Obelisk represents only one of hundreds of Confederate memorials dotting the public spaces of the South and even the nation, it characterizes a strong shift in the political winds. It represents the rise of the New South—a refreshing and much-needed change in the atmosphere of  Southern culture.

To those sobbing about erasure of heritage and history: When would we ever forget the Civil War, which tore our region to pieces? More importantly, how can we possibly glorify the trademarks of a movement that sought to benefit from the enslavement of human beings? We have so much to be proud of in the South—our food, literary movements, art, and even the slow and continuous climb to civil equity among all. Better to live in the present, embracing the change that seeks to equalize all of us than to revel in a lost cause—a war that sought damage to our counterparts. The South ought to be an American mecca of a unique culture that embraces its history of progress without glorifying our separation from the whole country we claim to love.

I say: Down with the Obelisk.

Tagged: Civil War, emery duffey, heritage, history, Lost Cause Obelisk, monument, Southern