Coweta County's Confederate monuments – who controls them and whether they still represent Coweta – were brought up by two speakers at this week's meeting of the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
Three speakers spoke about some issues with construction materials being left at Newnan's Farmer Street Cemetery, and two also spoke about the monuments.
While the cemetery is the city of Newnan's property, the city council doesn’t have the same type of open public comment as the commissioners meetings do; speakers are required to sign up at least a week in advance to speak to the Newnan City Council.
Joshua Wieda said that he hoped the commissioners would consider the presence of unregistered, unrecognized or forgotten historical and heritage sites around the county as the commissioners make policy decisions.
He said he is also hopeful that the commissioners will have a soulful conversation about "the history and heritage of the entire county and all of its residents, both present and past."
Coweta County has always had a large Black population, according to Wieda. "Even a casual tour of our public spaces finds that half of our shared history is missing, neglected, forgotten and possibly in the path of development and destruction. … I look forward to us talking about that," Wieda said.
Wieda asked the commissioners to examine the county's historic monuments and markers to clarify who has ownership and responsibility for them.
The Confederate monuments on the Court Square are in the city limits but on county property.
“And, possibly, depending on who I ask, still the legal property of their original owners,” Wieda said. "I'm asking for clarity and, for now, nothing more.”
Spencer Lewis said he also wanted to talk about history.
"It is who we are," he said. "We often memorialize our history, preserving the narrative that we wish for future generations to remember and honor. This is why we have memorials for war, for our founders and for our great citizens.”
But at the heart of Coweta, there are two monuments to Confederate soldiers.
The more visible and more well known is a stone soldier, a memorial to Coweta's Confederate dead, and the other is for William Thomas Overby.
Overby, known as the "Nathan Hale of the Confederacy," lived in Coweta and was executed, along with five of his comrades, after refusing to betray the location of his commander.
"I would ask you gentlemen, why do we have that at the heart of our historic Courthouse?" Lewis said of the Confederate soldier monument. "Although Georgia and Coweta County may have once been a part of the Confederacy, do these same values represent us today?"
"What were the values of Confederacy? State's rights? The state's rights to uphold slavery. Economics? The economics of slavery. Northern aggression? Northern aggression against slavery," he said. "The placement of this monument was intentional. It lets people know the feelings of Coweta county in a historic context regarding race.”
Lewis suggested monuments could have been placed elsewhere, such as the Confederate section of Oak Hill Cemetery, where soldiers are buried.
“Instead, it was placed at the heart of our county seat, at the most publicly available spot, to be witnessed by everyone," he continued. "Although the South lost the war, they got to write the history of the grand heroes of the Confederacy.”
First erected in 1886, the monument was in the middle of the intersection of Jefferson Street and East Washington Street before being relocated in 1911 to its current location on the east side of the courthouse.
"So I ask y'all tonight. Does it reflect us today?” Lewis asked. “Does it reflect Coweta County and the views of this county that we are proud of our Confederate heritage?"