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City Talk: Confederate memorial committee honors past, present

Last week, Savannah City Council held the first public discussion of the final report of the Confederate Memorial Task Force.

As noted in the impressive document, Mayor Eddie DeLoach “charged the Task Force with making simple and sensible recommendations that would address ways to make the Confederate Memorial more representative of Savannah’s community while also preserving Savannah’s unique history.”

The task force rose to the challenge. The final recommendations, if fully implemented, would make the Confederate Memorial in Forsyth Park more reflective of the spirit in which it was created in the 19th century and more reflective of the Savannah community in the 21st century.

The task force was comprised of Daniel Carey from the Historic Savannah Foundation, Christy Crisp and Stan Deaton from the Georgia Historical Society, Vaughnette Goode-Walker of Footprints of Savannah, Ellen Harris from the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, Amir Jamal Toure of Geechee Kunda and Robin Williams from SCAD’s Department of Architectural History.

Despite the expertise of the task force members, a few of the recommendations might generate controversy, especially since 64 percent of Savannah residents who responded to a public survey said they did not want any changes made to the memorial.

The task force’s boldest recommendation calls for moving the smaller monuments honoring Confederate officers Lafayette McLaws and Francis S. Bartow to Laurel Grove North Cemetery. In a November column, I also recommended relocating those two statues, which were moved from Chippewa Square to Forsyth Park in the early 20th century.

“The McLaws and Bartow monuments were added to the Forsyth Park site 35 years after the erection of the memorial and are distractions from the original memorial,” reads the task force’s final report. “While the memorial honors the Civil War fallen, the busts are monuments to two specific Confederate leaders (only one of whom died in the Civil War), shifting the focus from all to the individual.”

As the report notes, the Park and Tree Commission recommended in both 1902 and 1910 that those two monuments be moved to Laurel Grove rather than Forsyth.

The task force also recommends that we add a bronze plaque rededicating the memorial to “all the dead of the American Civil War” and begin calling it the “Civil War Memorial” rather than the “Confederate Monument” or “Confederate Memorial.”

With the exception of the new bronze plaque, the monument would look as it did in 1879, the year the statue of the Confederate soldier was added to the top.

The final report notes that “Savannah needs to expand its Civil War interpretation throughout the city,” but argues that the Confederate Memorial “is not the place for these stories.”

The mayor and aldermen will take up the recommendations at their meeting on Feb. 14.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St. Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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