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Newton board to consider removal of Confederate statue at Tuesday meeting
0705 CovNews Statue
The 114-year-old Confederate memorial statue is a centerpiece of the park in the middle of the Covington Square. - photo by Tom Spigolon

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated from an earlier version to include additional information.

Newton County commissioners are set to discuss the possible removal of the 114-year-old Confederate memorial statue on the Covington Square during a special called meeting Tuesday, July 14,.

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. in the Commissioners Boardroom on the second floor of the Historic Courthouse at 1124 Clark St. in Covington.

County officials are requesting that all attendees wear a mask because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, social distancing will be strictly enforced which may limit seating, according to a notice from the county government.

District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said those on both sides of the issue of the statue's removal have indicated for years that they want to speak publicly about the issue.

However, he said he was unsure if commissioners will do more than merely discuss the removal of the controversial memorial which has stood in the center of the Square since 1906.

"I don't know if a vote will be taken," Cowan said.

Meanwhile, an email stated a "Save The Covington Monument Statue Peace Rally" and fundraiser for legal expenses to halt a planned removal is set for Sunday, July 12, and the following Sunday, July 19, from 2 to 5 p.m. on the Covington Square.

According to an email, the group has received a permit from the Covington Police Department for the event. However, a reporter could not confirm that claim Friday night.

The email states the fundraiser is a "non hate event" and urges the Newton County Commission to comply with a 2019 state law which protects similar statues statewide.

"This memorial statue to those that died must be preserved at (its) current location on the Covington Square where it has been since 1906," the email states. "There is no other equally prominent place in the county and it should not be moved!"

A 2019 state law designed to protect such memorials in Georgia says a local government cannot remove, relocate, conceal or obscure a monument placed on public land unless it is necessary for building, expanding or altering buildings, roads and highways.  

If relocated for those reasons, a monument must be placed at "a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, and access” but not to a museum, cemetery or mausoleum unless it was originally placed in such locations, according to the law. 

An organizer of the Sunday event, Bill Nash, said the statue's location on the Square had not been an issue in the 40 years he has lived in Newton County until recent months following nationwide protests of police shootings of unarmed Black people in Atlanta and elsewhere.

"It appalls me that they're doing something like this," he said, in reference to the Newton County Commission. "They're taking away from some people to appease other people." 

He said he is a businessman and works to treat customers of all races fairly.

"That's the way I want to be treated," Nash said.

Commissioners have estimated up to $100,000 would be needed to move the monument.

Petitions on both side of the issue have passed through the community and on social media. 

More than 11,000 have signed an online petition organized by Covington resident Tyler Still in support of removing and relocating the statue, which is roughly 23 feet in total height. 

Covington Peaceful Protest 1
Residents gather around the statue on the Covington Square recently for a peaceful demonstration in the wake of the death of George Floyd. - Mason Wittner | The Covington News