More than two hours of often heated and emotional public comment preceded Monday’s announcement that the Confederate battle flag will no longer fly in downtown Kennesaw’s Memorial Park on Main Street.
Kennesaw resident Matt Southwell told City Council, “Monuments to the wrong side of the most bloody conflict in American history do not teach history…Textbooks. Museums. This is where those symbols belong so that they can be properly contextualized with all of the facts surrounding them.”
George Williams IV, a resident assistant at Kennesaw State University, shared his frustration over the flag and Wildman’s Confederate memorabilia store, another source of tension in downtown Kennesaw.
“What am I going to tell new freshmen who want to get to know the city…that they need to watch out for certain areas? Because you may see a Confederate flag? A Klan hood in a window of a shop?” Williams said.
Supporters of removing the flag who addressed the council in person and via email significantly outnumbered those who said they wanted it to stay, but there was still strong opposition voiced.
Debra Williams, who ran for mayor of Kennesaw in 2015, said, “I’m not gonna deal with emotions. I’m gonna deal with facts and law…There’s a proper process in changing that law if you don’t like it. Should you choose to stay on the path each of you have spoken to take, you again, will knowingly, willingly and intentionally be choosing to break the law. When you break the law, you are, at that moment, a criminal and immediately should be arrested.”
The law Williams referred to is from a 2001 compromise that was reached when changing the Georgia state flag. The law prevents removal or alteration of publicly-owned memorials and monuments.
OCGA 50-3-1 (2) No publicly owned monument or memorial erected, constructed, created, or maintained on the public property of this state or its agencies, departments, authorities, or instrumentalities in honor of the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state, the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof shall be relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion; provided, however, that appropriate measures for the preservation, protection, and interpretation of such monuments or memorials shall not be prohibited.
The city took action to change the flag based on the part of the statute that allows “appropriate measures for the preservation, protection, and interpretation” by issuing a resolution to replace the old flag, which was “not historically related to the events commemorated at the park,” with the unofficial state flag that was in use prior to 1879.
“I think that the time is now to make a difference. Kennesaw is ready to move forward but never forgetting our past. We learn from it and do better. My Grandma used to say, ‘It’s never too late to do the right thing.’ I believe Kennesaw is doing the right thing now,” former Councilman Jimmy Dickens told the Courier.
Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) also attended the meeting in support of the change, unfurling the replacement flag with Dickens’ assistance.
“I am overwhelmed by the response of the community and their passion to do the right thing,” Councilman David Blinkhorn said.
This was the first meeting citizens have been able to attend since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to maintain social distancing protocols, seating at City Hall was limited and overflow went into two rooms at the Ben Robertson Community Center. Attendees at the secondary location addressed the council through video. The city is continuing to stream meetings on Facebook and take public comment through email.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.