If a Georgia municipality wants to remove a Confederate monument, that is OK under a new proposed bill that would mandate the monument is sold to a private owner or shipped to Stone Mountain.
State Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, and former Atlanta Democratic state Rep. LaDawn Jones introduced the bill to the public Wednesday during a Facebook Live event that featured a moderator, and off-screen, a number of reporters.
Spencer and Jones got into a heated debate on the social media platform in August after Spencer posted photos of himself at the site of the memorial in Irwinville where soldiers with the 4th Michigan Cavalry arrested Confederate President Jefferson Davis, including some controversial language. Earlier that day, he posted a photo of himself in front of the newly unveiled Martin Luther King Jr. monument at the state Capitol.
Jones said she responded to Spencer in the same way she would have done if still sitting next to Spencer in the legislature, but that response would have been less confrontational than how it came across to many people on Facebook. For his part, Spencer said he regretted his response to Jones, which included remarks that South Georgians “are people of action, not drama,” and that she could “go missing in the Okefenokee.”
In the weeks since the online dustup that made national news, Spencer and Jones worked together to craft legislation that could represent the next step Georgia takes in dealing with the legacy of the Civil War.
“I don’t think the (Facebook) conversation would have gone in the same direction, had we been in person.,” Jones said. “It is no secret that while in the legislature, I put forth legislation to address the Confederate monuments here in Georgia.”
In what Spencer calls the meat of the bill, control of Confederate monuments would be vested with the cities and counties that have monuments on their properties. Other states — North Carolina, for example — passed laws doing the opposite, putting all the control with the legislature. Jones said they made a conscious decision to make sure people did not have to go back to the General Assembly regarding monument removal.
“(Local governments) can do one of two things in this bill — they can decide if they want to remove a monument that they consider offensive, that’s a Confederate monument, they can decide to move that to an interested private party to sell it or auction it, but it would have to be to a person who has a bonafide interest in preserving that monument and that history,” Spencer said.
He said the other part is that if a local government cannot find a buyer, they can send the monument to Stone Mountain to be a part of the park, and Stone Mountain “would serve as the repository” of the removed monuments. The bill also includes tougher penalties for defacing Stone Mountain, and changes Stone Mountain Park from a “memorial to the Confederacy” to a “historical memorial.”
Spencer said he would like to transfer Stone Mountain Park to a private owner committed to historical preservation, but that was one of the policies that did not make the draft. Jones noted there were policies she would like to change as well, but that there needs to be some amount of compromise and a way to move forward, and that this bill represents starting from a place of agreement rather than a place of division.
“We don’t need a Confederate park in Georgia,” Jones said. “What we do need is a historical park that talks about all the Civil War. This will allow us to expand the history there, will allow us to discuss the contributions of not just the Confederate war or Confederate army soldiers, but the African-Americans who were free and enslaved that contributed, to the women who contributed, to the Native Americans who contributed during the Civil War era.”
She added, “I believe that when that when history is not erased, but put into full context, is given to the state, it makes it all better.”