By Joe Johnson
When workers remove the Confederate memorial from its prominent place in downtown Athens, they might find a time capsule containing a trove of artifacts dating to the late 19th century.
The Athens Banner published on May 19, 1891, featured a front-page story entitled, “In the Monument,” with the sub-headline of “Mr. William King Recalls Every Artifact that was Laid to Rest in memory of the Lost Cause Under the Corner Stone of Our Monument – The Full List.”
The Ladies Memorial Association erected the memorial in 1871-1872 in memory of Confederate soldiers from Athens who died in the Civil War. Originally located in the center of the College Avenue and Washington Street intersection, it was moved to East Broad Street in 1912.
It became a focal point of local Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of the killing in May of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police in Minneapolis, and similar recent officer-involved deaths of black people.
Local activists had called for the monument's removal because it stood for the oppression of Black Americans under the Confederacy.
County commissioners in June voted to relocate the obelisk-shaped monument to an area off Macon Highway, the site of the only Civil War skirmish known to have occurred in Athens.
It is unknown if the time capsule moved with the monument in 1912, but Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz said, “The work crew is aware of the possibility of materials buried under the monument, and will preserve anything found.”
The Athens Banner article from 129 years ago begins by stating, “It is interesting at this season of the year when decoration day thoughts are still in the minds of Athenians to study the past, observing always how earnestly the Ladies Memorial Association has sought in every way to honor the dead heroes of the Confederacy, who sleep in Oconee Cemetery.”
The story mentions how Dr. William King, a longtime resident of Athens who served several terms as Master of Mt. Vernon Lodge, F.A.M., laid the memorial’s cornerstone and furnished the newspaper with the following list of articles placed within the cornerstone:
Constitution of the Confederate States.
List of all the volunteer forces from Georgia.
List of general officers in the army of the Confederate States.
Accounts of important battles fought during the war.
Organization of Cobb’s Legion under the command of T.R.R. Cobb.
Confederate state band, with muster roll of Capt. E.P. Lumpkin’s artillery Company and a roll of Confederate money.
Order of funeral exercises of Gen. Howell Cobb.
Message to those who shall come after us, by the President of the Memorial Association.
An address delivered by Mr. A. Mitchell on the corner stone of the monument to the Confederate dead.
Officers of the present government of Athens with some of the ordinances of the said town.
List of Athens Fire Company No.1, also of Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company No.1.