A county in the Atlanta suburbs has removed a Confederate monument that stood on the grounds of the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse in Lawrenceville.
The decision is the latest win for the growing movement to remove monuments to hate. But this particular monument had two especially dubious distinctions. First, it was put in place exceptionally late. According to Michael Diaz-Griffith’s “Anti-Racist Preservationist’s Guide to Confederate Monuments,” a great many monuments to the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy were erected between 1890 and 1920, decades after the Civil War, and in the 1950s and ’60s—periods marked by advances in civil rights. The Lawrenceville monument was erected in 1993 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. (Sadly, it is not the most recent.)
Second, it bears a quote supposedly from Sir Winston Churchill: “Any people with contempt for their heritage have lost faith in themselves and no nation can long survive without pride in it’s [sic] traditions.” But one expert in misinformation says those words never came out of Churchill’s mouth.
Loren Collins, an Atlanta lawyer and author of Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation, questioned the quote as soon as he heard of it. “There’s a whole chapter on spurious quotations in my book,” he said, “so that set off some alarms for me. When I searched online, most of the results were just neo-Confederate sites, which doesn’t necessarily prove it’s not legit, of course, but I just couldn’t find any credible source.”
Among the earliest appearances of the phrase that he can find come from the “Southerners Left a Legacy of Courage,” a 1990 editorial in Virginia’s Daily Press defending Civil War reenactments. Another, from around the same time, comes from a newspaper ad placed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “That makes me wonder,” he said, “whether it was just circulating among those groups in their newsletters and pamphlets or whatnot.”
“More recently,” he says, “I came across a 1992 article about the monument in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ‘Memorial Issue Resurrects Painful Past.’ It includes several letters from readers, and one of them uses this quote, which makes me wonder whether that’s the way it ended up there!”
The 5,800-pound granite monument features an early Confederate flag as part of its imagery. Protesters calling for the removal of the monument pointed out that Charles H. Hale, a Black man, was lynched just a few yards from the site in 1911. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had previously called on Governor Nathan Deal to tear it down in 2017 after the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It has been placed in storage, according to the county, while court proceedings decide its fate. A state law prohibits the removal of Confederate monuments except for reasons of “preservation, protection, and interpretation,” according to ABC. A new Democratic majority of county commissioners found that two recent acts of vandalism made the monument a threat to public safety.
“It will not remove 150 years of hatred and white supremacy, but it’s a damn good start,” said commissioner Kirkland Carden of the decision. “This has no place in a modern-day Gwinnett County.”