An effort to remove a Confederate battle flag from downtown Kennesaw has found support among Kennesaw State students in the midst of a national push to withdraw Confederate symbols from public view.
The effort was started by Kennesaw resident Reid Jones, whose change.org petition has gained more than 4,600 supporters since it was started on Aug. 15. The effort comes in the wake of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event, which was originally meant to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in a local park, ended in the death of one person and sparked condemnation nationwide.
“The removal of the Confederate flag from the public flag pole in downtown Kennesaw would serve as a message to all that our community strives for equality and unity, rather than disparity and division,” the petition reads.
Georgia law states that it is unlawful to tamper with or remove monuments, meaning that even if the petition becomes successful, a new law would have to be passed in order to move or take down the flag. Jones said he was not aware of the law when he originally started the petition but has decided not to scale back the effort.
The issue was further complicated when the flag was reportedly stolen from its pole on Wednesday, Aug. 16., according to city officials. The city put the flag back up in order to uphold Georgia code.
In response to the outcry, the Kennesaw City Council voted Aug. 21 to request that the state legislature revise the current law to allow municipalities more freedom to determine the fate of their monuments.
Although Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling said he questioned the necessity of removing the flag, he conceded the need to change the direction of the current narrative.
“We cannot change the events which brought us to this place in time, but we can certainly change the direction we travel from this point forward,” Easterling said.
The proposal passed by a 4-1 vote. Council member Jimmy Dickens, who voted in favor of the measure, said he believes the appropriate place for the flag is in a museum.
“I believe that history has a place,” Dickens said. “That’s why we go to museums to learn about history.”
Civil rights organizations have reached out to support the removal of Confederate flags and symbols in Georgia. In a press release, the Georgia NAACP specifically called on Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia National Assembly to immediately add the issue to their agendas.
“Georgia is a great state and home to people of all heritages,” the press release stated. “Georgia and American values should trump the hate that flows from the continued celebration of Confederate States of America.”
Council member James Eaton cautioned that the vote doesn’t necessarily mean the flag will come down.
“The resolution that we’re going to pass tonight is the right first step,” he said. “But the solution to the problem is up to the Georgia General Assembly.”