As the sun rose over Brunswick and parents got their children ready for school Tuesday, city officials and a moving crew quietly broke down the symbol of racism and injustice that for decades had loomed over this majority Black city.
A crew of moving men pulled apart the granite monument to unnamed Confederate soldiers, loaded the three pieces onto flat-bed trucks and drove it away from Hanover Square to a secure storage area.
For almost two years, as Brunswick and Glynn County came to grips with the racially motivated murder of Ahmaud Arbery, community organizations have been lobbying for removal of the stark reminder of Coastal Georgia’s legacy of white supremacy and slavery. The journey from public protests to political coalition building to action demonstrates the rocky journey that the county and Georgia continue to chart towards racial reckoning.
“This morning our city removed the singular vestige of a bygone and abhorrent era in our Nation’s history,” Mayor Cosby Johnson said in a statement. “Let today stand as a monument to the ever-moving tide that brings us closer to love, equality and understanding.”
Johnson, who was elected last November, campaigned on the promise of removing the monument that stood in Brunswick’s central, tree-lined square within his first 100 days of office. Despite a groundswell of support among Brunswick residents for taking down the statue, city officials balked at taking any swift action due to the thicket of Georgia’s laws protecting Confederate symbols.
In the summer of 2020 the Georgia state legislature made it illegal for cities or counties to damage, destroy, remove or replace symbols of the Confederacy.
However, community leaders in Brunswick held a series of public meetings to raise a consensus and coalition about the harm that vast numbers of county residents believed the statue did to citizens as well as the region’s reputation.
In the fall of 2020 a divided city council voted to remove the statue, in theory. Part of the official decision taken was to wait until legal challenges pertaining to Brunswick’s monument and Confederate statues in other municipalities came to a conclusion.
The mayor at the time, Cornell Harvey, wrote privately to Civil Rights groups that Georgia’s legal climate made rash action unlikely.
“We all want it removed,” Harvey wrote in an Oct 12, 2020, letter to Diane Knight, a board member of the Robert S. Abbott Race Unity Institute about the city’s statue. “But we must figure out a way that does not cost the city a financial burden with lawsuits for breaking the law.”
Earlier this spring, a Georgia appellate court ruled that groups who claim heritage to Confederate soldiers or memorialize the Confederacy do not have standing in their claims in civil court that removing Civil War statues would cause them monetary harm. Many of those organizations, including the group which claim Glynn County-area Confederate ancestry, are trying to appeal that ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.
In March, a Glynn County Superior Court judge threw out a lawsuit by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans that was trying to keep Brunswick’s statue in place.
On April 7, the Brunswick City Council voted again in favor of removing their own statue — the only question for concerned citizens was when the action would take place.
Only a handful of people appeared to know about the removal on Tuesday morning. Mayor Cosby and at least two city council women were at Hanover Square.
City officials did not return queries asking about the timing of Tuesday’s action. A person familiar with the situation said the monument was being held at a secure location where other Confederate statuary could be found.
Members of A Better Glynn, a grassroots community organization working for social equality and more accountability in the county, noted that the removal of the monument coincided with the anniversary of a seminal Civil Rights victory — the 1954 Supreme Court decision to integrate American public schools.
The city’s action also comes just days after an 18-year-old white gunman opened fire in a grocery store in a majority Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people that law enforcement says was a racially motivated hate crime.
The Tide brings news and observations from The Current’s staff.