Forum illuminates debate over the nation’s public monuments

Several professors, directors and lecturers from the University of North Georgia gathered to discuss monuments on public land on Oct. 2 at the Gainesville campus.

Famed Confederate monument Stone Mountain is protected by Georgia law. (“stone mountain” by tanjila ahmed is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The forum, guided by art history professor Dr. Michael Kemling, comprised five views from different historical and artistic lenses, and answered questions from the art and history clubs.

Dr. Ann Tucker, assistant professor of history, started off the debate by pointing out why a monument would be put up in the first place.

“We need to look at when they were created,” Tucker said. “Historic monuments were not built immediately after a war or immediately after the time at which the person died.”

Tucker’s presentation showed a timeline of when many monuments were erected. She explained that Confederate monuments typically commemorate a battle or a demise around its 50th anniversary, corresponding to the Jim Crow laws, or 100th anniversary, around the civil rights era.

The forum debate moved on to monuments and how they honor leaders that some nations grow to resent.

“When we talk about racial healing, we can refer back to Germany,” said Sheila Caldwell, adviser to UNG’s president on diversity and the director of Complete College Georgia.

“When Germany was trying to heal from Nazi influence, they decided as a country to take down all statues in order to heal,” Caldwell said. “They just reflected as a country. They took it upon their community, and they willingly removed statues in order for racial healing.”

The recent violent turmoil in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August has brought renewed attention to Confederate monuments all over the country. As of 2016, there were 718 Confederate monuments and statues in the United States on public land — 276 of those are in Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina, according to the brochure given out at the forum. Georgia state law prevents many of the Confederate monuments to be removed, and the same goes for other states like Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia.

“Some laws protect certain statues,” Dr. Lance Bardsley said. “And those certain statues cannot be touched.”

Bardsley, an associate professor of political science, covered public law and legislation in the forum. He encouraged the crowd to visit congress.gov to see which statues are protected under the state level. Stone Mountain, for instance, cannot be touched due to Act 50 of Georgia code. About 30 cities have already taken down some of their monuments, and around the country, a total of 12 monuments are listed to be either placed in the Smithsonian or put under the state recollection, he said.

“The removal of statues is not a new issue,” said Dr. Robert Robinson, director of multicultural student affairs. “Each century, the history gets reinterpreted.”

He referenced an ancient example of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius and how the Roman emperor’s gesture was turned from a gesture of clemency, or mercy, to a gesture of justice in the beginning of the 16th century. The statue was removed for restoration and now sits in a museum next door to where it was for centuries, and where it is now seen as a work of art.

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