Part I of II noted there were probably "more to come." He is one on Tom Watson.
From The New York Times
The description that accompanied an executive order by Gov. Nathan Deal of
Georgia this month was a mundane one: “authorizing the relocation of a statue.”
But Mr. Deal’s understated edict
did not affect just any statue. Rather, the governor ordered workers to move a
12-foot bronze monument to the populist firebrand and white supremacist Thomas
E. Watson that has towered over the grounds of the State Capitol here for more
than 80 years.
Georgia officials said the plan to move the statue of
a political power broker and journalist whose legacy includes a role in
instigating the infamous 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, was not connected to the
inflammatory stances that defined him late in his career.
“This is just part of an ongoing project to renovate
the steps around the State Capitol,” said Paul Melvin, a Georgia Building
Authority spokesman. “We’re moving the statue because of the construction. To
move it back would be a prohibitive cost that’s not in the budget.”
Mr. Melvin said the monument, which celebrates Watson
as “a champion of right who never faltered in the cause,” would leave the
Capitol grounds next month as part of the $2 million project and remain
permanently in a nearby park, which the state owns.
But the decision to move the statue is another chapter
in this state’s complex relationship with its history and with a man who
represented Georgia in both the House and the Senate and in 1896 ran for vice
president on the Populist ticket with William Jennings Bryan.
Early in his career, Watson was a leading advocate for
the rural areas he represented, pressing for free mail delivery and supporting
white and black farmers alike. He also criticized lynching and backed suffrage
But his opinions later shifted. He became a ruthless
critic of blacks, Jews and Catholics and once cautioned that “another Ku Klux
Klan may be organized.” A publisher, he used the titles he controlled to build
public support for segregation.
“His story is quintessentially Southern: bright
promise being dragged down into the muck by bigotry and ignorance,” said James
C. Cobb, a Southern history expert at the University of Georgia.
He added: “He was not a king, but a kingmaker. His
endorsements could really swing sizable blocs of votes because he had a very,
very strong following out in the Georgia countryside.”
Watson’s legacy has long made his statue an unsettling
sight for black lawmakers and others here.
“It never should have been right in front of the
Capitol in the first place,” said State Senator Donzella James, a Democrat from
Atlanta. “I’m glad that it is being moved because we have all of our press
conferences there, and we’ve had to stand right next to that thing.”
But State Representative Tommy Benton, one of six
House Republicans who sponsored a proposal
this year intended to maintain the prestige of state-owned statues, cautioned
that Georgia should not erase its past.
“I’ve learned to take the good history with the bad
history,” Mr. Benton said.
He said he feared that relocating Watson’s statue will
lead people to seek the removal of monuments to other historical figures with
“They’re attempting to whitewash history so that only
the things that are pertinent to them are remembered,” Mr. Benton said. “I’m not
a big fan of William Sherman’s, but I’m not out there protesting his statues in
other states because he did $100 million worth of damage in Georgia.”
Like other Southern states, Georgia has wrestled in
recent decades with how to recognize its racial heritage.
The state flag conspicuously featured the Confederate
battle emblem until 2001, and anger stemming from the decision to alter the
standard helped push Gov. Roy E. Barnes from office.
On Tuesday, Mr. Barnes said that his successor’s
decision was a step toward deeper reconciliation, whatever his motives were to
support the removal of the Watson statue.
And Mr. Barnes said that he wished the statue had been
relocated years ago, when he was governor.
“I just never got around to it,” he recalled. “I
regret I didn’t.”
From the AJC's Political Insider
For decades, visitors to the state Capitol have been greeted by a statue of the Georgia populist who gave rural America free postal service – a racist, anti-Catholic politician whose anti-Semitic screeds were credited with fueling sentiment for the lynching of Leo Frank.
A spokesman for Nathan Deal this morning confirmed that the 12-foot statue of Thomas Watson is being permanently relocated across the street, as part of a renovation of the Capitol grounds.
An odd political figure who began as a 19th
century liberal, who courted newly empowerment of African-American voters after Reconstruction, Watson evolved an advocate of disenfranchisement of blacks and a fulminating critic of anything the least bit foreign in the New South.
Here’s a line from Steve Oney’s 2003 book, "And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank":
A day after Watson's broadside appeared, reports began to circulate that a group of 150 Mariettans known as the Knights of Mary Phagan had met at the child's grave and vowed "to 'get' Slaton and Frank, no matter how long it takes." All three Atlanta papers ignored these rumblings, but The New York Times flatly asserted: "There seems to be little doubt that such a body has been formed."
For years, whether at the in-state funeral of Corretta Scott King or Kasim Reed’s 2009 announcement that he would run for mayor of Atlanta, the statue has offered a discordant note. On the other side, the statue has occasionally served as a rallying point for states’ rights and Southern heritage enthusiasts.
But it looks like the statue’s greatest sin might be that it takes up too much valuable space on the Capitol’s front apron.
From the AJC's Political Insider
Gov. Nathan Deal came to north Georgia to meet with business leaders on Tuesday, which gave us an opportunity to bug him personally about his executive order that will shift the statue of Tom Watson from its spot at the state Capitol’s front door to a less prominent locale across the street.
So was there was there any reasoning beyond the renovation to remove the statue of Tom Watson, a politician and newspaper publisher made infamous by his attacks on Jews, Catholics and blacks? Said Deal:
"We were very concerned about the condition of the steps outside the Capitol. It doesn't look like a major problem from the outside until you start looking closely and see the cracks. It's a safety issue. And I'm told the statue needs to be moved to accommodate that.”
But does it also send another sort of message, that Georgia has turned a page in its history? Said the governor:
"I suppose that would be one of the good signals that would come from it, but I don't want to magnify it beyond the real reasons. And the real reasons were safety for people coming and going from the Capitol and the steps needed to be repaired. And the statue was in the way.”
Are any other statues up in the air? That provoked a chuckle:
"Not that I'm aware of."
We just heard back from state Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, who introduced legislation that would make it harder for the state to remove monuments like the Tom Watson statue that's headed from the statehouse steps next month.
He wants to make clear he's not riling Gov. Nathan Deal, who ordered the removal of the statue of the avowed racist Georgia politician to accommodate a renovation. But he said he would press on with his legislation, which requires officials removing historical markers, statues and monuments to move them to a place of similar significance.
Language to that effect might be difficult to craft. Is there any place of prominence at the state Capitol equal to the front door?
But here’s what Benton, who taught Georgia history for three decades, had to say:
"I want to make sure that in our politically correct society we don't start moving things that tell our history. It's all history. Somebody back in the 1930s thought enough of Tom Watson to put a statue up. If we start judging our ancestors, how are we going to be judged? What if we roll over every time someone cries racist, or says something isn't politically correct? I bet we would have to remove statues all over the South."
His point somewhat echoes the argument made by UGA historian James Cobb, who says there's a place for history
- both good and bad - if placed in the proper context. Said Benton:
"You can't pick and choose what history you're going to remember or you'll lose a whole bunch of your past. Watson was a racist and anti-Semite. But he was also probably the most powerful politician in Georgia for 25 years."
Update on 10-31-2013
See Jim Salzer's story in the AJC
“It is a dangerous thing anytime there is an attempt to rewrite or cover up any people’s history,” Jack Bridwell, Georgia’s SCV division commander said in a release. “The current decision to begin removing statues of Georgia’s elected statesmen from the Capitol grounds just because some vocal individuals today may not understand or agree with all of their political decisions a hundred years ago is historical revisionism at its best and an outright attempt to steal our heritage and history as Georgians at its worst.”