The monument to Newton County’s Confederate history has stood on the courthouse square since 1906.
History doesn’t record if it was controversial or not upon completion 111 years ago, but times change. Where once the Confederate battle emblem dominated the Georgia flag, that’s been eliminated since 2001, along with it any vestiges of a statewide Democratic party.
Further, the national conversation about Civil War imagery has changed since the massacre of people in a prayer meeting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white supremacist two years ago.
Then-Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina ordered the removal of Confederate flags from the State Capitol grounds in Columbia, and one by one since, flags and monuments have toppled across the South.
Newton County has not been immune, not with a giant monument in the middle of downtown in the county seat — and especially not in a county with great racial diversity.
The issue has been especially hot since the summer and shows no signs of cooling. The county Board of Commissioners’ policy of allowing citizens to talk — and talk, and talk — at meetings has led to unending discussion with little progress.
Some want to take the monument down, banishing it to a cemetery. Others want to add new memorials to enshrine the role others — Native Americans, African-Americans and others — have played in making Newton County what it is today.
At some point, Newton County will have to decide what course, if any, to take on the monument. It might stay as it is, without any further explanation, but the recent arc of history makes that doubtful. It’s more likely some other community will be the first in Georgia to bear the brunt of this decision.
Eventually, Newton leaders will have to decide once and for all what to do. The constant discussion threatens to hold back the progress we’ve made in nearly a year of a new administration.
Setting the issue aside for, say, six months might not be the worst course. Chairman Marcello Banes, for all the progress made in his term, is still not a year into the job. We need him and his team focused on the Newton County of the 21st Century, not the vestiges of the 19th.
And that won’t happen if we’re still fighting the Civil War.
“Newton County is not going to be a place where blacks and whites are against each other. It’s just not,” Banes said at an August meeting.
“This room is not for that. This is not what Newton County is about. Our kids, they don’t need to see what eventually this is going to come to if it doesn’t stop.”
Reasonable people can disagree over what they want to see happen with the Confederate monument, but we won’t look reasonable if this becomes the biggest issue going — bigger than jobs, or education, or any of the other stuff a county government should do.
Let’s put this on the table for six months or so and go from there.
Our Thoughts is the view of The Covington News’ editorial board, which includes Editor and Publisher David Clemons and News Editor Jackie Gutknecht.