Roy Barnes on the perils of removing Civil War monuments

Former Gov. Roy Barnes in a 2015 file photo. Tami Chappell / Special to the AJC

Former Gov. Roy Barnes led the fight to try to remove the Confederate battle emblem from Georgia’s flag, but he said Southerners should take caution about revived calls to tear down other Rebel symbols after the bloody violence in Charlottesville, Va.

In a lengthy post on his law firm’s website, the Democrat wrote that “symbols of the Confederacy should never be the symbols of state” and that he wonders still how those who voted against getting rid of the Civil War emblem explain their decisions to their children and grandchildren.

He took a more nuanced approach to other Civil War monuments evoking the Lost Cause, the revisionist history that cast the Confederacy as heroic and slavery as an afterthought. Those who embrace that view “are spreading a myth which further distorts the true course of history.”

“Though our forefathers may have fought bravely, they fought for the wrong cause,” he wrote. “America is the great place it is today because of the blood which was shed to assure the South did not prevail in its effort to preserve its slave holding way of life.

The ex-governor took issue with the call from state Rep. Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor, to take a symbolic sandblaster to the Confederate heroes carved into Stone Mountain. Barnes endorsed her Democratic rival, state Rep. Stacey Evans, in the contest.

The massive carving shouldn’t be blown off the side of the mount, Barnes wrote, but “there should be a telling of the story in truthful terms and not the mythical terms of ‘Gone With the Wind.’”

Street names and other memorials should be considered in the same light, he wrote. Confederate Avenue, an Atlanta street that runs in front of the Georgia State Patrol headquarters, should be renamed because it sends the message that the state’s police is located on a street linked with “slavery and suppression.”

The Confederate memorials that are left standing, he added, should be “a teaching point on how good intentioned people become so blind in their views that blood is shed.”

“The memorials should not all be destroyed or taken down, but the full story should be told. They should be a constant reminder that politicians appealing to passion laced with race can lead to disaster and scar a nation for generations,” he wrote. “In the current state of politics, no lesson could be needed more.”

Read his entire post:

In light of Charlottesville and its aftermath, it is time to take a deep breath and consider where we are in regard to the vestiges of a war fought over 150 years ago.

Judging others by their race and the use of race in politics is a cancer, and it will infect and kill the body politic unless we control its deadly spread.

What happened in Charlottesville was appalling and evidence of pure racial hate. Torch-carrying Neo Nazis and White Supremacists marching through the streets, waving Nazi as well as Confederate flags and giving Hitler salutes is frightening to all of us who love America.

Our leaders must condemn quickly and forcefully any such action, and many did. Failure to stand up and do the right thing is cowardice and any leader who fails to do so does not deserve to lead us. Our national leader failed miserably in his responsibility to rise to the occasion and articulate the premise ingrained in our national ethos that all men are in fact created equal.

He did not appeal to the better side of us. His action is a sad commentary of the failure to be a constructive solution to race hatred. In fact his action gave comfort to the enemies of freedom. We have a responsibility to assure that if you lead the nation, you lead us all, not just a few extremists who have ideas long rejected by free peoples everywhere.

Slavery was wrong and will always be wrong. It was not benevolent and slaves were not extended members of the family. Slavery was a cruel, violent and demeaning institution which is our national shame. And those who deny the Civil War was fought as an effort by the South to maintain slavery are spreading a myth which further distorts the true course of history.

Though our forefathers may have fought bravely, they fought for the wrong cause. America is the great place it is today because of the blood which was shed to assure the South did not prevail in its effort to preserve its slave holding way of life.

So, should we erase from the landscape every reminder of the Lost Cause? The answer to that question is more nuanced.

Symbols of the Confederacy should never be the symbol of the state. The removal of the Confederate banner from Georgia’s flag in 2001 was not only the right thing to do, it saved Georgia from having its official state symbol being the same as that which incited Dylann Roof on his rampage through a church killing nine African-American worshippers. I have often wondered how those who voted against the flag change explain their action to their children and grandchildren. There was no excuse for failing to make our flag the flag of all Georgians and not those of only one skin complexion.

What about the monuments of those who led us into the Civil War or defended white supremacy?

What I have always wondered when I saw those Confederate statues on the courthouse grounds is where is the memorial to those held in bondage? If in fact, the memorials are to a part of our history, shouldn’t history be told in full and not in part?

The carvings of Lee, Davis and Jackson shouldn’t be blown off the side of Stone Mountain, but there should be a telling of the story in truthful terms and not the mythical terms of Gone With The Wind.

Truth is truth and only the complete history should be told. We should examine each of the memorials and street names in this context. For example, Confederate Avenue in Atlanta running in front of the State Patrol in my mind should be changed. It sends the wrong message that the police power of the state is located on a street associated with slavery and suppression.

Further, Confederate memorials should be a teaching point on how good intentioned people can become so blind in their views that blood is shed. The memorials should not all be destroyed or taken down, but the full story should be told. They should be a constant reminder that politicians appealing to passion laced with race can lead to disaster and scar a nation for generations. In the current state of politics no lesson could be needed more.

What is needed most of all is the civil discourse of the issue of race, and a recognition that many of the beliefs held by generations of Southerners were just wrong. We should view the discussion in the same vein as I am taught in the Methodist Church–we are all God’s children, and we should look through the eyes of those who are different from us, love them and seek to understand their point of view. Only then we will begin to heal the wounds of a war which should have been over long ago.

Reader Comments 1

132 comments
Chris Le Fave
Chris Le Fave

He's right. It's important to remember history. Stop tearing it down. I am a Northerner who DOESN'T want statues taken down.

Kathy Boyle Dry
Kathy Boyle Dry

Historical monuments should not be removed! Civil war history is what people visiting the south want to see! History should never be erased or forgotten or hidden! Mistakes in the past, are there to make the future better and remind us what did and didn't work and should not be repeated! People, especially children should know about the past, because as future leaders of this country they can make better decisions for the future! Destroying history is what totalitarian regimes do in communists countries!

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Marc KD Boyd
Marc KD Boyd

90's era GA Dems are still butt hurt about loosing their majority over this...

Scott Kuechenmeister
Scott Kuechenmeister

Georgia courts are flooded with minorities in largely white communities. Court officers are largely white and City Hall rolls around in a sea of money fleeced from the communities most vulnerable. Welcome to Cracker Land.

Sandra Bowring
Sandra Bowring

No street names should be changed or statues moved. Maybe the GEORGIA STATE Highway Department should move to a more appropriate location.

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

Thank you Democrats, for another great reason to rally the Right and vote Conservative.

Ernest McGraw
Ernest McGraw

We called Roy the Rat.....see the same face .....probably wears pink panties. He was the kid who "ratted" on the guys smoking in the parking lot. A liberal socialists media creation here in Gawga.

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dcmdawg
dcmdawg

It is very interesting, I don't hear people talking about tearing down Senator Robert Byrd buildings and highways that are named after him. He was an actual member of the KKK and a Democratic Senator. Hillary Clinton said that Robert Byrd was her mentor. Just think, we almost had a President who's mentor was a KKK member and a person who recruited 150 people into the KKK. Does that make Hillary Clinton a racists.

Trevor Stricklin
Trevor Stricklin

If you think removing our history is going to change racism in this country you're an idiot..

Tom Alfred
Tom Alfred

A journey of a Thousand Miles starts with a single step

Marcia Suits Dennis
Marcia Suits Dennis

Ryan we don't apologize for anything we didn't do anything wrong you must be a Yankee but no were not apologize for anything and the South is going to destroy all Martin l kings work and that other muslim obummer statue and his library yall want to get rid of ours so yall offend us and yall are racist too so they have to go to its only fair if ysll destroy our south

Marcia Suits Dennis
Marcia Suits Dennis

One thing obummer is not president he's history we now have a new president he went in office January of 2017 his name is Donald Trump

Austin Stewart
Austin Stewart

Nothing to honor but racism with those statues. Tear them down.

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Thomas Adams
Thomas Adams

If you are offended by an inanimate object you have deeper problems than racism!!

Nancy Leverett Fondren
Nancy Leverett Fondren

You weren't a good Governor and your not a good Southerner....sit down shut your mouth....hopefully your clients will see the real person you truly are

Ruthie Brown
Ruthie Brown

As long as those Statues are up the Confederate War is still going on! Look how people are cussing and feuding the suggestion to take them down!!!! Confederate Ave. LEE Street! Who on here feuding lives on Confederate Ave. or LEE Street! I thought so!!!!! And NAZI is German! Saluting a Country that you do not even live in or won't migrate to and reside there! What's up with the fear of not seeing those dead rocks! Put them in your Yard!!

Donald Anderson
Donald Anderson

Old Roy should have learned his lesson with the flag. Apparently he didn't. I hope he is the last democrat to live in Georgia's governors mansion. May the Georgia liberal party ponder what could have been for a long time.

Steve Herring
Steve Herring

There's a right way to bring about change and a wrong way. Let's do it the right way. We need leadership! But unfortunately the Democrats are too busy trying to capitalize politically on the violence we are experiencing now and blaming Trump for everything. It's a horrible political strategy that accurately reflects their bad character.

Alan Mckay
Alan Mckay

Sounds like Roy is a product of government education. Maybe Roy should read a little history and use a little common sense. The War was NOT fought over slavery! READ TRUE HISTORY. DON'T just believe what you are told. Your Georgia flag thing turned out to be a joke. It just proves you are a fox or haven't a clue about history. One or the other.

Kimberly Martin Henderson
Kimberly Martin Henderson

The VP of the Confederacy himself said the South seceded over slavery ... 🤷🏻‍♀️ "The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution." http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/cornerstone-speech/

William Kruse
William Kruse

Those of you that talk of mythology should first read the actual history and study it as if you have no personal agenda. The real history is that there were great differences between the north and south that lead to the civil war besides slavery( there were as many slave holders in the north as there were in the south). Those that believe that the war was fought simply over slavery are indeed the simple ones or even worse attempting to pursue their personal agenda to divide the country. The real results of the civil war was the fact that in spite of the differences between the north and the south as well as a war in which much blood was shed, we were able to come back together as a nation to become one of the greatest nations in the world. Those that want to see something different are only playing to those that want to tear our country apart again today. Read and learn .......don't repeat history.

Matthew C Billips
Matthew C Billips

William Kruse, have you read the Articles and Ordinances of secession of the various Confederate States? ALL of them give preservation of African slavery and white supremacy as their sole or primary reason for seceding. What history are you reading, that rejects the stated reasons of the secessionists?

William Kruse
William Kruse

Matthew I have as well as the reading material that brought them to the point of secession and it is clear that slavery itself was not the primary reason that those that favored and brought about secession. What history are you reading something from Alice and Wonderland. Of course you probably don't believe one of the largest slave holders of that time was a black man in the north.

Michael Hopson
Michael Hopson

And I don't agree with Roy Barnes about much at all (never consider him a thug) in this case we come close to being on the same page. But I am sure we have room on Stone Mountain to add a carving of civil rights leaders and the planning committee needs to start work soon, as I've noted Dr King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X would make a fine carving. However aside from that did anyone notice most of the violence in Charlottesville seems to have been perpetrated by out of towners and out of staters....

Genesis Harrod
Genesis Harrod

They're all coming down. To the losers fields they go!

Sheron Hilliker Edge
Sheron Hilliker Edge

The left LOST the election on all possible levels! We intentionally removed as many democrats as we could from power and are still winning elections since Trump won. The left cannot be allowed to force their own agendas on us when they lost the election. They think just calling names gives them power, but I couldn't care less what names those leftist lunatics call me! The CBC is not anything but a club of about 50 racists, that Obama made! No other group has their own racist caucus and they shouldn't either!!!They are not a legitimate organization that our constitution notices and they are the ones pushing for all of this. The party that America clearly rejected can not be allowed to force their wants on us against our wills! This is not the agenda that we voted for and we won! Somebody that knows how to make a petition needs to make one asap, for the CBC to be labeled as a terrorists organization because this IS terrorism! They are using dictator tactics by stomping all over our rights and our votes, and doing whatever they want to anyway! We cannot sit back and continue to allow a group of about 50 racist terrorists to force their own agenda on hundreds of millions of us, calling everybody names just to get their way! We don't care what names they call us and want this stopped right now!

Gary Tilt
Gary Tilt

I was reading along here shaking and nodding my head and it wasn't until I got to your comment that I got angry. Angry because you are so ill informed and willing to display your ignorance. Instead of voicing an opinion you cite falsities as facts and then build outrage on them. The CBC was founded in 1971, long before Obama. Whether you consider them to be legitimate or not is irrelevant. And you seem to forget that while "you" won the election, more than 50% of US citizens did NOT vote for your agenda and have a seat at the table right along side you. You are the one expousing dictator tactics.

Ruthie Brown
Ruthie Brown

The truth and nothing but the whole truth! Thanks! Every citizen in America has a Voice, not just a select few, my goodness! Yeaaaa Gary Tilt!

Sheron Hilliker Edge
Sheron Hilliker Edge

They were not a gathered and organized actual group till Obama announced that he has created this caucus. He said this himself! And you cling to your polls and media numbers. I know and we all know that across America, we overwhelmingly and massively outnumber leftists! I live in a military town and know so many African Americans that ditched the Dems and voted for Trump and all the Hispanic Americans that I know did! Find false comfort in fake numbers if you must. The results you claim don't match up with what we can see with our own 2 eyes.

Ruthie Brown
Ruthie Brown

YOUR opinion is yours don't try to SHOVE it down my throat! I shall not be moved! OKAY! What about Dylan Roof went into that Church and killed Nine innocent people in WORSHIP,and not EVEN bothering him? And he was carrying those flags and worshing those dead Statues! I can't help if my Soul and Spirit is on the same wave as PRES. BARACK H. OBAMA!!! AND I am not in any leftist or right category! I Am An Anointed Child of GOD! Blessings to you!!!!

Ruthie Brown
Ruthie Brown

And what about them picking on Pres. Obama his entire term in office and admitted to doing so! They can hit him, but he can't hit back! Not fair!!! I'm not Worshipping no human! Only The Lord GOD! You go right ahead and bow down to #45! Okay with me!

Sheron Hilliker Edge
Sheron Hilliker Edge

Dylan Roofe acted alone and has been sentenced to death. He's not out there now, patrolling our streets. \U0001f644 That made no sense whatsoever and nothing else you said does either. I'm done here. Child of God, sharing a spirit with Obama, who isn't really a fan of that Christianity business. Okay! You are insane. Bye bye! \U0001f629

Sheron Hilliker Edge
Sheron Hilliker Edge

One more thing, you stand 0 chance when the antichrist comes along. You need to read your bible from beginning to end and pray!

Gary Tilt
Gary Tilt

I thought you said all you were going to say several sayings ago? We were ready.

Ruthie Brown
Ruthie Brown

Gary Tilt, she needs a shot of that in your hand!!! Hahahaha, hahahaha! You too funny!!!

jerryaf1483
jerryaf1483

Ruthie Brown, get back on your meds.

Tom Alfred
Tom Alfred

Apparently doesn't like credible facts or critical thinking either? off in a separate world of because I say so therefore it it's the word of God.

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  1. […] The debate over Confederate nomenclature can have policy implications, as evidenced by the brief essay published Tuesday by former Gov. Roy Barnes, who noted the awkwardness of having Georgia State Patrol headquarters on a street named Confederate Avenue. […]

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