Cordele Commission work session fails to solve statue problem
By Neil B. McGahee
A July 22 work session of the Cordele City Commission failed to make any headway in solving the growing demand to tear down all vestiges of the Confederate States of America in Crisp and Dooly counties.
A petition with about 8,000 signatures was presented to the Cordele City Commission in May demanding removal of the Confederate monument on the grounds of the Community Clubhouse.
And that reignited the question of who actually owns the statue.
Commissioner Wesley Rainey said a trustee gave the property to the city from an estate and no city tax dollars has gone into maintaining the property. But he said the city only owns the property, not the clubhouse or the statue.
But City Attorney Tommy Coleman says that’s not quite the facts.
“The clubhouse and property belong to the city,” he said. “But the state organization of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) owns the actual monument. When the local UDC chapter dissolved, the ownership of the monument transferred to the state chapter. They are the rightful owners.”
And they don’t have to move it because Georgia code OGCA 50-3-1 says any person or entity that damages, destroys, or loses a monument or that takes or removes a monument without replacing it shall be liable for treble the amount of the full cost of repair or replacement of such monument and may be subject to exemplary damages unless such person or entity was authorized to take such action by the public entity owning such monument.
Back at the turn of the 20th Century little thought was given to honoring the “boys in gray,” a mere 41 years after the Civil War.
And so in 1911, Cordele Chapter 793 of the UDC had a 20-foot-tall statue of a Confederate soldier erected in the intersection of 16th Avenue and 7th Street.
By 1921, horses were being replaced by automobiles and the monument had become a traffic hazard. It was moved to its present location at the Community Clubhouse.
Dooly County’s memorial was erected in a city park across the street from the courthouse in 1908 by the Vienna UDC Chapter 1097 as a tribute to the living Confederate veterans.
So what should be done with something that is a source of pride for some and a painful reminder to others?
Vienna resident Shon Taylor told the Vienna City Council, that for the sake of his children and others, the statue should come down.
“My daughter asks me ‘Daddy, what’s that statue for?’” Taylor said. “I know what it means, but I don’t know what to tell her. We all know about the history, but we don’t need that right in the middle of town reminding us about the history.”
But Adrian Patrick, an African-American resident and attorney, speaking to the Cordele Commissioners and later the Vienna City Council, said he wanted the statue to stay, but an easement should be granted for the creation of an African Renaissance monument.
“We can’t rewrite history, but we can move forward,” Patrick said. “The most oppressive in this country are black Americans. It’s history and I want the Confederate monument to stay. I believe in history and it (the statue) should be kept up there but there should be should be a proper perspective”.
That was all Vienna Councilman Randall Almond could stand.
“That don’t sound like anything but a sellout,” he said, his voice rising with every word. “You are selling us out. This is about symbolism and that statue symbolizes white supremacy. The continuing presence of that statue on public property serves to negate and undermine the past and the ongoing struggle to overcome and reverse the legacy of slavery and oppression of my people.
“It’s about being kept in bondage, about being kept ignorant, about being treated as second-class citizens long after that war was over. Your idea is insulting to me and my people. This is about people… about people.”
At the end of his tirade, Almond’s voice was literally booming through the council chamber.
Patrick, clearly flummoxed by Almond’s tongue-lashing, tried to mount a withering defense, but it was in vain.
A week earlier Cordele City Commission Chair John Wiggins proposed a workshop to decide the monuments fate.
“I scheduled this work session because I knew this was going to continue to be addressing us,” Wiggins said. “We had the city commissioners as well as two county commissioners — Larry Felton and Nance. I was hoping to get a head start on it and decide what to do about it. There were two proposals — one to remove it and the other was to leave the statue in place but erect an African-American Renaissance somewhere in the proximity of the statue. We went round and round but we never did come to any decision. Everybody said what they thought it should be but we never came to any decision.
“I could go either way. I understand what that statue means to the African-American community. At the same time, I don’t doubt that the statue was placed with good intentions, but it represents bondage.”
Still the controversy remains and Wiggins said another work session will be due.
“It was tabled again, but I will schedule another work session,” he said. “But we have more important things to deal with. I haven’t gotten any complaints about the statue, but I’ve gotten a lot of complaints about this trash situation. There’s trash all over town not being picked up and it’s blowing all over the street. We lost a lot of manpower due to COVID-19. We used to use county prisoners, but that population was hit hard. We just got behind and we don’t have the manpower to catch up. We’re doing the best we can.”