JEFFERSON, Ga. -- "That's a Confederate soldier," Tommy Benton says, pointing to a new bronze statue on the square in his hometown. Three years ago, the GOP state representative helped raise $50,000 to build it. New confederate monuments are a rarity, he says. "You don't get many at all because of basically the political climate," he says.
Benton says it is the same political climate that is forcing the removal of the statue of Tom Watson from the main entrance of the state Capitol. Watson was a turn-of-the-century white supremacist who served in the Georgia legislature and the US Senate.
Benton, a former high school history teacher and onetime Sons of Confederate Veterans commander, laments the statue's removal.
"I think there's room for all of it. And just because I disagree with what somebody stood for, doesn't mean that I would oppose their monument," Benton said.
Watson's background as a white supremacist doesn't disqualify the statue's placement on the Capitol's grounds "because of the good things that he did," Benton said.
Benton smells trouble for other historic figures on the the Capitol grounds. Like General John Gordon, a US Senator and early backer of the Ku Klux Klan; Senator Richard Russell, a powerful US senator who fiercely opposed civil rights legislation; and Eugene Talmadge, elected four times governor of Georgia-- and a man whose politics gave chills to the grandmother of Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta).
"She said when you grow up and start voting, you can't vote for a Talmadge," Brooks said Monday. "He was one of those men that would compare black women to milk cows. On the stump, speaking with his red suspenders and his hair flowing in the wind."
"And you say my God, how could the people elect someone like that?" Brooks said. "But they did. Four times!"
Brooks says he would like to see the statues of Talmadge, Gordon and Russell also removed from the Capitol grounds.
But Benton argues that Talmadge was merely a man of his times.
"Talmadge was the hero of the common man," Benton said. "Well, the common white man. All right. But you have to remember, that was the vast majority of the people when he was governor of Georgia as well."
Asked if the Talmadge statue's presence on the lawn was disrespectful of non-white Georgians, Benton said: "They can put up a statue if they'd like."
"I think if you start getting politically correct on everything, it will never stop."
Benton argues that if the state removed the statues of flawless Georgia politicians-- the Capitol grounds would be empty.
Some footage in the attached video used with permission from the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.
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