Confederate Monument to be Replaced by Statue of Civil Rights Hero Rep. John Lewis – Rights History
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Confederate Monument to be Replaced by Statue of Civil Rights Hero Rep. John Lewis

A statue of John Lewis, the deceased Black U.S. House representative and civil rights activist, will replace a Confederate monument in the congressional district that Lewis once served.

Lewis’ statue will replace the Confederate Obelisk Monument, a stone pillar erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1908. Superior Court Justice Clarence Seeliger ordered the monument to be removed in June 2020 after repeated vandalism and racial justice protests had rendered the racist monument a “public nuisance” that could possibly result in harm, especially if citizens tried to remove it themselves.

In June 2020, Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett wrote in a statement, “This symbol of hate and oppression has created a real and present danger to our community and it must be moved for the protection of the public…. We are at a point now where we cannot delay.”

On December 29, 2022, a city task force announced that the monument would be replaced by a statue of Lewis created by Jamaican sculptor Basil Watson. Watson briefly met Lewis and shook his hand in 2005.

“I was impressed by his calm and peaceful nature,” Watson said of Lewis to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I sensed someone of great passion and empathy. My feelings for him grew more and more over the years.”

The task force raised nearly $600,000 for the replacement statue. Watson expects to unveil Lewis’ statue — which will be a 12-foot statue on a 4-foot pedestal — in 2024, the aforementioned publication reported.

Watson says he feels pressure to make a quality statue of Lewis. But in 2021, he unveiled his now-iconic statue Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the city. The statue showed King releasing a dove from his hands. Watson has also created statues of Olympic gold medalists for the island nation of Jamaica and statues of British West Indian immigrants for London, England.

“This project has been a labor of love for all of us who knew and loved Congressman Lewis,” said Garrett of the upcoming Lewis statue. “He served our district and the world with such honor and distinction. His statue will stand as a reminder to all who pass that once this great but humble man walked among us, and we are happy we elected him over and over to serve us and the world.”

Though Lewis served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 until his death in 2020, before his time in Congress, he was a major organizer of the 1963 civil rights March on Washington and led an Alabama march from the city of Selma to the capital city of Montgomery which was attacked by state troopers and police.

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