Growing up in Monroe, we didn’t learn about our local history at school.
We didn’t hear about Monroe’s civil rights leaders like the Rev. Clinton Sorrells Sr., whose arrest after attempting to be served at Bolton’s Restaurant led to the desegregation of downtown businesses; or Robert Howard, who helped integrate Monroe schools and sought Black political representation in local government.
I was in graduate school when I discovered “Fire in a Canebreak” (which should be mandatory reading in Walton County schools) and fully learned the details of the Moore’s Ford lynching.
Just last Christmas, as my family was enjoying the light display in Childers Park, I learned that the electric substation used to be a public swimming pool, but was filled in rather than be integrated in 1969, the same year George Walton Academy opened to preserve segregated education in Monroe.
Many people have written to The Tribune to defend the Confederate statue as a symbol of our community’s history. They argue that even if slavery — the Confederacy’s raison d'être — was racist (often referred to more delicately as “misguided”), history is just that: history. It’s over, and can’t be changed. But whose history is memorialized, and whose must be forgotten?
These statue defenders have misleadingly cited U.S. Public Law 85-425, Section 410, and U.S. Public Law 810 to argue Confederate veterans are equivalent to U.S. military veterans.
In fact, Public Law 85-425 merely provides pensions to widows of Confederate soldiers and Public Law 810 allocates funding for monuments or headstones at unmarked gravesites of people buried in or eligible for burial in national cemeteries, including for Civil War soldiers.
Our courthouse does not sit atop any unmarked graves, save possibly Native ones, nor is it a national cemetery. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of unmarked graves of Black citizens requiring restoration at Zion Hill Cemetery in Monroe, including that of Mae Murray Dorsey.
Confederate soldiers served a rogue and treasonous state and are not considered U.S. military veterans, legally or otherwise. To say they are is an offense to the soldiers who fought and died defending the United States from the “CSA” that our statue emblazons.
Georgia Senate Bill 77 was passed just last year in an effort to stop the long-overdue removal of Confederate statues. However, the bill does not prohibit removal for “preservation, protection, and interpretation” (SB77; Section 1, Line 46). In many places nearby, from Athens, to Conyers, to Covington, to McDonough, to Decatur, these monuments are being removed at the behest of local officials who recognize such statues do not belong in the hearts of our cities. They glorify the Confederacy’s attempt to preserve slavery — the so-called “Lost Cause” — and are fundamentally antithetical to equality.
The statue’s defenders challenge FORM, a group of Black activists from Monroe referred to by one letter-writer as a “mob,” to provide evidence of contemporary racism in Monroe, or else “be shunned.” I’ll do so for them.
Racism is all around us
We see racism today in our city’s poverty rates, which are nearly twice as high for Black citizens than white citizens (39.8% vs. 21.2%, U.S. Census, ACS 2018). We see it in the rate of homeownership in Monroe, where the majority of Black residents live, which is half what it is in Walton County as a whole (35.4% vs. 73.3%, ACS 2018); in the fact that only four out of the 136 private commercial businesses in downtown Monroe are Black-owned (I checked using several sources); the nearly all-white makeup of our local government (two of nine people among the mayor and City Council and one of seven county commissioners are Black); the fact that the Debutantes of Monroe’s bylaws only permitted “white Americans” to be tapped until 2018; the fact that George Walton Academy still only has a handful of Black students (34 in 2017-18, or 4.4%, U.S. Department of Education), and when those students share their experiences of racism at school, they’re called liars, or worse (see @blackatgwa on Instagram).
People often balk at the idea of acknowledging racism because they feel it is a personal attack on their character. But that’s a misunderstanding of what racism actually is. Hateful beliefs or acts of violence are merely a granule of a much larger machinery of white supremacy that structures our society.
It is these systemic inequalities that FORM is working to address. Let’s start by removing the statue, which is a living symbol of Black disenfranchisement in our community.
It’s not enough to only say Black Lives Matter, we must (re)form our social, political, and economic structures to actually make this the “best small town in America” for all our citizens.