Nearly 2,700 people as of Wednesday night had signed an online petition to remove a Confederate flag from a downtown Kennesaw park. About the time it crossed the 2,500 signature mark, Kennesaw city council members agreed to consider a resolution aimed at allowing the city to make its own decision on whether the banner should remain on display.
But no such flag flew on any of the three flagpoles in the city’s Commemorative Park for most of the day Wednesday, as Kennesaw Police Officer Scott Luther confirmed that the flag had been removed sometime during the past few days. The park, which features monuments and plaques honoring veterans from several armed conflicts and a Sept. 11, 2001, memorial, is located next to the Southern Museum at the corner of North Main and Cherokee streets.
The petition on change.org was started Monday afternoon by 19-year-old Reid Jones, a 2016 Kennesaw Mountain High graduate who says he was prompted to start the endeavor by the past weekend’s protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“I personally see it as a symbol of division in the U.S. It’s definitely not a symbol of unity,” Jones said. “I think leaders on both sides right now are calling for unity, and the last thing we need is to raise a symbol of the biggest divide our country’s ever seen. And it also represents white supremacy, segregation, any kind of racial division.”
Jones said he began the petition to catch momentum of the growing movement to remove memorials and symbols “glorifying the Confederacy.” The push has sparked similar efforts across the country as well as other parts of Georgia, such as a call for removal of the giant granite depiction of three Confederate leaders on the side of Stone Mountain.
Supporters of Jones’ call-out were not limited to those residing in Kennesaw — with signers hailing from other cities in Cobb as well as other states across the country.
Jones said many local residents who had signed the petition were not aware of the flag’s presence in one of the city’s parks. “I’ve gotten so many messages from people that were simply appalled at the fact that it was even in downtown Kennesaw,” he said.
He added he was not involved in the flag’s removal from the park.
Council members discussed the petition during their work session Wednesday night. Kennesaw Councilman Jimmy Dickens told the MDJ earlier that day that he began getting numerous calls, texts and emails Tuesday about Jones’ petition.
“I’ve had some reach out to me that want to keep the flag, and I’ve had a lot more who reached out to me who want to have the flag removed. It’s been a very diverse (response) — it’s not just one race of people,” Dickens said. “Even (Jones, who) started this petition, he’s not African-American, so it goes beyond a race of people. I think it’s a majority of people that wants it (brought down), in my opinion.”
Among those who want the flag to remain on display is 86-year-old resident Dent Myers, who operates the Civil War surplus store Wildman’s in downtown Kennesaw across from Commemorative Park.
“(It’s) a symbol of some of my ancestors’ blood,” Myers says of the flag. “It’s not a hate flag — if you want a hate flag, go with the American flag. Slavery, we had 200 years of that (in our history). All (supporters of the flag) are trying to do is maintain the heritage of our people who went to war because they did what they thought was right.”
Myers said he believed the flag had been taken twice in the days since the violence in Charlottesville, and could not recall any other times it had been taken from the park in past years.
Luther said Wednesday the flag had only been reported stolen once in recent days.
While some may label the Confederate flag as a racial symbol, Myers said he does not see it as such.
“It’s the Christian flag, and we put stars on it. It’s the St. Andrew’s cross,” he said.
Dickens said he sees both sides of the issue, but would rather see the flag in a museum rather than in a public setting.
“I understand that to many of the Southerners and people who love the South, they see the heritage, and I honestly believe the intent of the flag when it was originally created may not have been for the intent that it is being used for now,” he said. “But at the same time, they have to realize that there’s people that also fought against that same heritage for rights, and they see the flag as a sign of everything they hate about the South. They see the flag as a symbol of their struggles they had to go through for many years to try to get rights.”
Proposed city resolution would not remove flag
Though the Kennesaw council on Monday could consider a measure regarding the flag, its approval would not and could not remove the flag from the city park due to existing state law, said Randall Bentley, the city’s attorney, who said he had spoken with Jones prior to Wednesday’s meeting regarding the city’s lack of power to remove the flag.
Georgia law prevents officials from state or local governments or any agency to remove monument, plaques, markers or memorials regarding military service of any personnel from the state, the United States or the Confederate States of America, according to a statement put out by the city Wednesday.
“(A resolution) would not have legal significance. It’s just making your stance known,” Bentley said.
Councilman Nimesh Patel said he would be working with Bentley to draft the resolution.
“I would support a resolution that basically lets us make the decision,” Patel said. “I think the resolution should take the tone that we acknowledge this issue, and we acknowledge this law, but let us make the decision, not you (the state), on what we can and cannot have. I think that should be the tone of the resolution and let us make the decision if and when that law is repealed.”
The council could vote on the resolution at its 6:30 p.m. meeting Monday after Jones and others who support removal of the flag gather outside city hall beginning at 5 p.m.
Jones said he is encouraging attendees to keep the demonstration peaceful.