Editorial: Reason, respect needed in Gen. Johnston statue discussion

The Gen. Joseph E. Johnston statue has stood at the intersection of Crawford and Hamilton streets in downtown Dalton for some 39,000 days.

The days of the Civil War Confederate general there may be numbered.

Civil War statues and symbols have come under increased scrutiny nationwide in the aftermath of the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 25 when a police officer pressed his knee against Floyd's neck and head for nearly nine minutes while fellow officers stood by. All four officers were arrested and face serious charges.

Floyd's death touched off protests, marches and violent riots in Minneapolis. Those riots quickly spread throughout the country as people expressed their frustration, anger and hurt over Floyd's death, the treatment of black Americans by law enforcement and the continued presence of racism in society.

Many are calling for drastic changes.

Change is also being called for here.

Organizers of a protest march this past Monday have demanded that the Johnston statue be removed from downtown Dalton.

They say the Johnston statue is a relic of the past, a symbol of racism and has no place upon a pedestal in the heart of downtown. Those who support keeping the statue downtown believe it's an important link to Dalton's past -- a piece of history that should remain right where it is -- and argue that we shouldn't erase history.

On Friday, the Dalton chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), which owns the statue, sent a press release to the Daily Citizen-News stating its desire to relocate the statue -- if that's what the Dalton City Council wants. The UDC does not have the money to pay to move the statue and has asked the city council or others to pay for relocating the statue.

The Johnston statue was dedicated at the spot it stands today on Oct. 24, 1912. Several ideas for a new home for the statue have been floated to give it historical context.

One possible spot is the Huff House on Selvidge Street, where Johnston kept his headquarters when the Army of Tennessee spent the winter of 1863-64 in Dalton. The Whitfield-Murray Historical Society owns the Huff House.

Another is Whitfield County's Rocky Face Ridge Park, which has numerous Civil War fortifications. Grant Farm, at the foot of the ridge on Crow Valley Road, was the site of two Civil War skirmishes and was also where Confederate encampments were when the Confederate Army of Tennessee spent the winter of 1863-64 in Dalton following the Battle of Chattanooga.

Yet another location is the Confederate cemetery in Dalton's West Hill Cemetery, which already has a statue of a Confederate soldier.

The UDC is also worried about the controversy the Johnston statue has caused, stating in a press release issued by their attorney that members are "concerned for the safety and security of all parties on each side of this discussion and conflict, and further desiring that there be no conflict among the citizens and visitors of this community, respectfully request that all parties stand down to prevent further disruption, disunity or harm."

The group expounded: "It has been brought to their attention that further marches, demonstrations and counter-marches and counter-demonstrations are planned which may involve people and parties from each side of this matter, and we are concerned that, in light of the emotional feelings of each side and volatile state of things in our community and in our nation, that someone could get hurt. It is our prayer that all parties refrain from any further such action. It is our prayer that by allowing the legal process of the local governments and civic organizations to proceed that a good resolution for all parties can result."

We wholeheartedly agree.

In recent weeks, Dalton has hosted two protest marches. Another to commemorate the memory of A.L. McCamy, a black man who was lynched and hanged in Dalton in 1936, is planned for Saturday at 6 p.m. in downtown. Due to cooperation among previous march organizers and local law enforcement, namely the Dalton Police Department, the protests have remained peaceful. While there has been foul language and offensive hand gestures exchanged between protesters and counter-protesters keeping watch over the statue, cooler heads have thankfully prevailed. Many of the exchanges on social media -- namely on Facebook -- have been less than cordial with derogatory language and demeaning posts.

We are hopeful for continued peaceful demonstrations along with reasoned and robust dialogue. We urge all sides to remain level-headed and respectful as we work towards a resolution.

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