As construction continues on Broad Street after the removal of the Confederate monument on Monday night, local government officials and the community are looking toward the steps that must come next.
Construction workers began removing the Confederate monument from the median on Broad Street just after 9 p.m. on Aug. 10. Renewed interest in removing the monument surged this summer as protests swept the nation against police brutality and the murders of Black individuals such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and more.
The removal was met with opposition when three individuals stood in front of the workers before they began, however police escorted them away from the monument. Around 30 individuals stayed for most of the night to watch the removal. People both in favor and against the removal talked amongst themselves, sometimes escalating into arguments.
In 2017, the Soldiers’ Monument came under scrutiny as discussions about memorializing white supremacy through statutes and monuments in public spaces were provoked after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Before I was on the commission, I worked with organizers from Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement and other organizations — Athens for Everyone — about the need to have this removed,” District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson said. “The symbolism here does not necessarily represent Athens-Clarke County and the people of Athens-Clarke County.”
Denson watched the removal of the monument on Monday night.
The monument will eventually be relocated to Timothy Place at the site of the Battle of Barber Creek. The monument was removed in eight pieces not including the base, and every section that was removed was met with applause.
Local activist Mokah Jasmine Johnson and AADM sent out surveys to the community to ask what they would like to see in place of the monument, Johnson said. Johnson, who has been fighting to take down the monument for three years, said there should be something to honor African Americans in the community to replace the monument.
However, the Mayor and Commission is concerned that putting another monument or statue in the median on Broad Street is an issue of public safety. Both Denson and Mayor Kelly Girtz mentioned issues of safety as reasons to relocate the monument.
Nevertheless, Girtz mentioned that there could be a prospect of putting a historical marker near the intersection, such as by the Starbucks or Chick-fil-A, but not in the specific place where the monument once stood.
“I would say that very broadly we need to recognize Black history of long ago and very recently in Athens in a more significant way than we've been doing,” Girtz said. Girtz has asked the Linnentown Committee to look at ways to memorialize Black history in Athens, possibly through creating a museum.
The Linnentown neighborhood was destroyed after the University of Georgia used eminent domain laws to build Russell, Creswell and Brumby Halls in the 1960s. Activists in Athens have been pushing for recognition and redress from both the city and university for Linnentown residents.
Beyond memorializing, Johnson is concerned that the decision to not put something in the now-empty space of the intersection was made without public input.
“Don't bring other people at the table that never cared about the monument, bring people to the table that’ve been fighting about the monument,” Johnson said.