Demopolis Council holds off on statue vote

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Demopolis City Council has held off on making a decision regarding the future of a Confederate memorial monument that was damaged in a vehicle accident last summer.
With some councilmembers expressing they would like to hear more from a committee that was apparently formed following the accident to look into various options for the monument, the matter was tabled by a unanimous vote. However, each councilman as well as the mayor expressed their thoughts on the matter. Citizens were also given time to speak.
Mayor John Laney told the council that the city’s insurance would pay up to $105,000 for needed repairs; however, the soldier that stood atop the monument was beyond repair and would have to be reconstructed.
When the statue was damaged, former Mayor Mike Grayson appointed a committee — made up of six whites and six blacks — to look into the matter. According to Councilman Charles Jones, who sat on that committee, the committee had discussed putting the statue on display and creating something new, perhaps an obelisk, for the monument that represented veterans of all wars.
Councilman Bill Meador said although a committee was appointed, there was never an official report or consensus brought back to the council.
Both Meador and Councilman Cleveland Cole expressed their thoughts that the monument should be restored.
“I feel it was an accident and, it being a memorial to these soldiers, it should be repaired and replaced. It’s been there for over 110 years,” Meador said.
Later, Meador made a motion to commit to repairing the stature so that the city could move forward with collecting the insurance money, but stopped short of a final decision on how the statue would be repaired until hearing back from the previously-formed committee. That motion died from lack of a second.
Cole spoke in favor of repairing the monument, including replacing the statue to its original form.
“It should be repaired and the statue needs to be back on the monument. It is a symbol of Demopolis and I would hate to see anything happen to it. If it had not been hit, it would still be there,” Cole said.
Cole made a motion to fully restore the monument and statue, but it also died from lack of a second motion.
Councilman Harris Nelson indicated he would be open to changes to the monument based on recommendations by the historical society and a civic organization.
“I would be in favor of an obelisk or flag (as part of the monument). Our history means a lot to the people of this town. Some of it’s good and some is bad. We need to remember our history, but it doesn’t mean we have to memorialize it in our downtown square,” Nelson said.
Mayor Laney said he felt a decision on the statue should be done in a way that brings people together.
“As mayor, I represent all the people …not looking at the statue necessarily, but the things we can do to move the city forward economically. Our city is split … we don’t work together and we need to do things to change that. There are a certain segment of people who don’t say anything, they just endure. It’s time to do things so they don’t have to just endure and come together as one city,” Laney said.
Ultimately, Councilman Nathan Hardy made a motion to bring the memorial committee back to make its recommendations to the council. That motion was approved unanimously.
During the meeting, several people spoke about the statue.
“I moved here in 1965. That monument has been in my life for over 40 years … I used to play on it as a child. I know everyone wants to do the right thing. We are a city made up of many different people. If we start erasing history, where do we stop? It should also be noted that the soldier was created at parade rest and was facing the south. It is not a combative statue, but rather a symbol that this soldier wanted to return home,” said Phillip Spence.
Morgan Nelson spoke in favor of using the opportunity to heal the city and bring people together.
“I graduated from Demopolis in 2003 and at that time we were still having separate proms. It was not OK. We’re the only town around with a fully integrated public school, but we are constantly held back by race. We are the City of the People and that should include all the people,” Morgan Nelson said.
Jackson Moore also spoke in favor of doing something different with the monument.
“I moved here in 2009 and love it here,” Moore said. “Everything I do I want to do for the betterment of Demopolis. I want it to be a place where we can all live in peace. Let’s do something to bring us together.”
Longtime resident Broughton Rogers said there are other options to bring the city together besides doing away with the history of the monument.
“I don’t find the statue offensive. Perhaps we could make a monument honoring civil rights. I think that would bring us together … tearing down (the confederate) statue will not,” Rogers said.
Also speaking was Pat Godwin of the United Daughters of Confederacy Chapter 53 of Selma. It was that organization that raised the money and presented the statue as a gift to the City of Demopolis in 1910.
“Demopolis has so much to offer through its history. The Civil War is still of great interest to people. Tourism is a $2 billion industry in our state and much of that has to do with the Civil War. Let’s showcase all of our history. Nobody is going to get a job or a raise based on whether or not the statue is there,” Godwin said.
Godwin also said she had spoke to then-mayor Mike Grayson that the Daughters of the Confederacy would pay the city’s insurance deductible if the statue was returned as closely as possible to its original state.
Mayor Laney told the Times the deductible would cost the city $5,000.
At this time, the council will await a report from the committee with action to be taken at a future council meeting.