EDITOR'S NOTE: This report has been updated from an earlier version to include additional information about the issue.
Those opposing the proposed removal of a century-old Confederate memorial statue from downtown Covington are asking county commissioners to reconsider any votes they may take during a Tuesday, July 14, meeting on the issue.
Local businessman Bill Nash helped organize an event Sunday, July 12, to rally support for opposing removal of the 114-year-old “To the Confederate Dead of Newton County” statue from the center of the Covington Square.
The "Save The Covington Monument Statue Peace Rally" also was designed as a fundraiser for legal expenses to halt its removal if approved by the Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.
Covington Police approved a permit for Sunday’s rally and for a second event Sunday, July 19, from 2 to 5 p.m. on the Covington Square.
Nash told the group he and others quickly organized the event in response to Newton County commissioners setting a Tuesday, July 14, meeting to discuss the possible removal of the statue.
Chairman Marcello Banes said during the July 7 county commission meeting he decided to place the issue on a meeting agenda after hearing a majority of Newton County commissioners publicly say they wanted to discuss the possible removal of the statue.
Banes said he planned to place the issue before the board at the July 21 regular meeting after Commissioners Demond Mason, Nancy Schulz and Ronnie Cowan said in comments at the end of the July 7 meeting they favored discussing it.
“It’s time for … either you’re going to support it to keep it or you’re going to support to remove it,” Banes said.
“I’m not in favor of letting this issue destroy our community — I’m just not. We’re going to have to deal with it,” he said.
Banes later moved the issue to a special called meeting Tuesday, July 14. Commissioner Stan Edwards said the issue had become so “hot” last week after the chairman’s action to place it on the July 21 agenda that Banes chose to move consideration of the issue a week earlier.
Cowan said last week 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.
At the Sunday "Save the Covington Monument Statue Peace Rally," Nash told the crowd that “we’re here to say the state law is clear” about local governments being unable to remove the monuments.
“Why would anyone in Newton County want our government to break state law? Actions have consequences and the taxpayers will hold them accountable,” Nash said.
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.
Nash said he believed the action to remove statues in Covington and elsewhere in the South was an election year effort by opponents of President Donald Trump, who signed an executive order June 27 that in part would halt some federal funding to cities if they do not protect such statues.
He also said an online petition with 11,000 names is supported by California-based producers of such productions as “Vampire Diaries,” which used the Square and other parts of Covington as a filming location for the popular TV series.
“This is our Square. It doesn’t belong to someone from California who doesn’t even live here,” Nash said.
Covington resident Tyler Still organized the Change.org petition in support of removing and relocating the statue.
Still said he agreed people living outside Newton County may be on the petition but the county depends on them to help keep its economy growing through sales taxes, tourism dollars and film productions.
Jake McGinnis of Covington sat in a lawn chair in the shade, waiting for the event to begin in the park surrounding the statue.
The Vietnam War veteran said he had lived 61 of his 70 years in Newton County and spent 18 months in Vietnam to protect the right to peacefully assemble about issues like the statue’s removal.
“We care about our little Square,” he said.
He also said he believed the public was unaware of his claim that those using the death of George Floyd — on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his throat — were using it as an excuse to destroy private and public property and remove Confederate memorial statues nationwide.
Vance Jennings said he had lived in Newton County for 53 years and the statue “means a lot to me” because of the memories of it and his longtime ties to the community.
Corey Jackson said he was attending to peacefully protest the commission’s plan.
“It’s a shame to erase important history,” he said.
Edwards said he wanted the statue to remain and sit alongside new statues of civil rights leaders like the late Forrest Sawyer Jr. of Covington.
Sawyer died in February and was among a group of men jailed for more than two months in 1970 for protesting segregation in Newton County.
Victor Payen noted the county government had dealt with calls for removal in previous years. He said the local government needed to deal with it and compared the issue to a “cancer” that needed to be eradicated.
The commissioners are set to meet about the statue removal at 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. Social distancing will be strictly enforced which will limit seating, according to a notice from the county government.
However, county officials today announced the meeting will be livestreamed on Facebook. It can be seen by visiting https://www.facebook.com/NewtonCountyGA/.
Commissioners estimated in 2018 up to $100,000 would be needed to move the monument.