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Amid Black Lives Matter protests, Athens mayor wants Confederate memorial removed from downtown

By Joe Johnson

Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz plans to go forward with the removal from downtown of a memorial to the town’s Confederate war dead.

He spoke about possibly relocating the memorial from its prominent location in College Square -- just outside the University’s main entrance on East Broad Street at College Avenue -- during an Athens-Clarke County mayor and commission regular meeting on Tuesday.

The tall,obelisk-shaped memorial is the first thing people see when entering downtown from the west.

“I asked the (county) attorney to develop the most effective route to do this so that we can proceed,” Girtz told Classic City News after the meeting.

“A woman who spoke on Sunday noted the pain of passing it for years when she was a student,” the mayor said, referring to an encounter he had during the Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protest that included marches around downtown but centered mainly around the Confederate memorial.

“I have long intended to move this monument to a failed racist movement away from a position of prominence in Athens, and now is the time to do this,” Girtz said.

Protests on Sunday in Athens and in cities across the country were in reaction to the May 25 homicide of George Floyd, a black, unarmed forgery suspect who was choked to death by a police officer in Minneapolis who knelt on Floyd’s neck until he became unresponsive and subsequently died.

After several hours of peaceful protesting at the Athens monumentSunday night and into early Monday, it was defaced by people who used spray paint to write George Floyd’s name and slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” as well as anti-police epithets.

There were previous discussions to remove the monument in 2017, after a so-called Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., a gathering of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, which was in response to the dismantling of Confederate monuments by local governments nationwide after a white supremacist shot and killed nine black members of a church in Charleston, N.C.

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