Credit: Donnell Suggs

Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey, the 59th and first Black mayor in the city’s history, sat down with The Current Friday to talk about a number of topics including the Nov. 4 City Commission meeting where a decision is expected to be made regarding the Confederate monument in Hanover Square. 

Wearing a black blazer, white dress shirt and gray slacks, Harvey says he is comfortable being the mayor of the predominantly Black city. He’s also optimistic about the future of his hometown, and feels like this past year can be used as both a litmus test and lesson to the residents of both the city and county.

“We can learn some things from this and I believe we have,” he said.

His term ending in 2021, Harvey spoke about not changing his mayoral style.

“When I became mayor I wanted to be out there, I want to be wherever I need to be,” he said of his seven years in office. The position is part-time in Brunswick. He told stories of losing friends and upsetting mentors by not being readily available to dole out favors.

“I represent everybody and it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to leave a legacy, all I want to do is get things done while it’s on my watch. Being a military man we know that during your tenure when hiccups happen you get blamed for it. I just wanted to change the culture of things.”

What if anything does the Confederate monument mean to you as a Black man and a Brunswick native?

Harvey: It means — it’s hard to put in words — it means so many bad things. Hatred is a strong word, so I won’t say that, but [the monument] is a symbol of slavery and hatred, and I don’t like it.

Are you feeling any pressure at all to resolve the Confederate monument issue?

Brunswick’s Confederate monument in the city’s Hanover Square.

Harvey: No I don’t feel any pressure to get it done. I do feel it has something that has come up to our commission and I’ve always stated that we don’t run from decisions. We face them head on and will make decisions. Some will like and some will not, and that’s just the way it is. The impetus is for us to do something and we will.

What kind of solution would appease both sides of this debate?  How can the city of Brunswick move forward from this issue?

Harvey: None.  

Have you reached out to other mayors – Savannah Mayor Van Johnson for example – in regards to this issue?

Harvey: Van and I are (Alpha Phi Alpha) frat brothers. I have talked to Van about it. I think a lot of mayors in a lot of cities around the state are looking to see what is going to happen with the cases that are already out there and of course we are doing the same thing. I think also now they are looking to see what Brunswick is going to do, too.

Here’s the deal: Our constituents, our residents want us to move it and they don’t care if it breaks the law. Which means the city of Brunswick can possibly get sued. I really sympathize with them because I understand this is a sore subject and really does not depict what Brunswick is.

We will make a decision that I believe and hope and pray will unify us, because we are unified in spirit.

Linda Chancey’s being on the advisory committee says a lot about the committee itself. What do you think that says about any recommendation the advisory committee comes up with?

Harvey: I have heard and I have gotten emails from people asking me to remove her from the advisory committee. Before we got a chance to do anything about removal the committee had already made their recommendation and by then it was a moot point.

Do you feel like forming an advisory committee was a mistake?

Harvey: No, mainly because it brought out a lot of stuff that a lot of folks in this community did not know. That was the purpose of my having it so we can learn some things from this, and I believe we have. Sometimes you have to put your stuff out on the table so people can see it.

The advisory committee came about because of me. I was the one to actually say we need to get an advisory committee. What I envisioned was to form an advisory committee and select people from the local NAACP, Robert S. Abbott Institute, Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy and all the other groups that I thought would have some input because basically all I wanted really was for them to give us some ideas and for them to bring out all of the contextual issues surrounding this.

What we did, very democratic-like, we each had a vote, and we selected our nine people that said they would like to serve. Where the numbers fell, that’s where they fell.

Do you feel like the commissioner’s views reflect the overall views of the community? Having watched those commissioners meetings it feels like the overall consensus is to remove the monument.

Harvey: I am not going to answer that. Our commission is very conscientious about our community. I have been on three or four commissions, and this one is more passionate and in tune with the public. We are really engaged with the community. We have heard them, we have seen the transcripts from the advisory committee and we have received information from our attorney and also from the lawsuits all around the state of Georgia and from around the U.S as well.

We have a lot of information to digest and to make a decision, and I feel whatever comes out of the decision we make will be an informed decision.

Brunswick City Hall

Brunswick wants to attract new residents and current residents to live in lofts downtown, how does this debate fit into any vision you may have about Brunswick as a great place to live?

Harvey: These are issues we are going through and every town has some issues. For the monument to be where it’s in our downtown area, especially since we are trying to develop our downtown it’s kind of hard. 

Do you enjoy being the mayor of Brunswick and what do you need is best for Brunswick?

Harvey: I do, I really do because I get the opportunity to help people. This is my hometown, I grew up with these people. Being the first Black mayor means something to me and more than anything it means something to these Black boys and girls. They are looking up to me. People see you all the time without you even knowing.

Brunswick needs to come together. If people would understand where I came from, I came from the projects but I went into the military (U.S Air Force) and started doing some things. While I was in the military I wanted to be the mayor of Brunswick. I wanted to come back and help the people. I wanted the job. 

I love what I do and I want to do some good things on my watch and hand it off to somebody else. 

Donnell Suggs is a staff reporter for The Southern Cross and a frequent freelance contributor to the Savannah Morning News and Do Savannah.Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began a sports...