“The area that once held the obelisk monument is unique as it sits wholly, both in the Congressional District Mr. Lewis represented for over 33 years and in DeKalb County, Georgia, and in the City of Decatur, the county seat,” the resolution read.
Following calls for Confederate monuments to be removed last year, the monument called “The Lost Cause” residing at the historical site since 1908 was removed in June 2020. According to Fox 5 Atlanta, the obelisk was placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy the same year the Georgia legislature ratified an amendment to prevent African Americans from voting. As a result of ongoing calls for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, a judge in June 2020 ordered the monument removed and called the monument a “public nuisance” for reminding residents of the South’s Jim Crow era.
“In short, the Confederate obelisk has become an increasingly frequent target of graffiti and vandalism, a figurative lightning rod for friction among citizens, and a potential catastrophe that could happen at any time if individuals attempt to forcibly remove or destroy it,” the judge wrote in his order.
According to local news reports, activists had been calling for the removal of the statue for almost three years.
Seven months after the judge’s decision, officials decided the space would be best used to honor Congressman Lewis. Lewis represented Georgia in the House of Representatives for more than 30 years. He died at the age of 80 last year following a battle against cancer. The decision is a result of responses received from the community on how Lewis should be honored. After the John Lewis Commemorative Task Force asked for suggestions, dozens of community letters requested a memorial to Lewis at the historical site in place of the former Confederate statue.
“John was a giant of a man, with a humble heart,” DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’“He met no strangers and he truly was a man who loved the people and who loved his country, which he represented very well. He deserves this honor.”
While it is unclear what the monument will look like, the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights representatives suggested it portray a young Lewis to commemorate the time he was severely beaten by Alabama state troopers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, yet stood confident.
“It is our hope that because our youth played such an essential role in the removal of the [Confederate] monument, that a statue of the young John Lewis during his [younger] years will be erected in the Decatur square,” Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights representatives said at a meeting in July, as reported by The Champion . “This will be a reminder of how many young people have been a catalyst for change in the world. Where a monument once stood to intimidate and disenfranchise Black voters, soon will stand a statue of an American hero who gave his life to building the movement that ensures Black people have the right to vote.”
While the move to replace the Confederate monument with one of Lewis is applaudable, local human rights activists noted that the fight to change racist monuments in the area is not over. Fonta High, the co-chair of Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, noted that other statues and monuments against minority communities both Black and Indigenous still exist in the county.
“The passing of the resolution is an important move for the county to make; however, it is reflective of a double consciousness or a cognitive dissonance that exists within our nation’s leaders as they speak about unity and our county leaders that a statue of Lewis, a staunch supporter of American Indians, could be considered when just a few feet away from where the Lost Cause monument once stood is the cannon from the “Indian Wars” of 1836,” High said.
Local high school students have called for the removal of the cannon, which the city commission has shown support for.