ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal quietly signed an order this month to remove the controversial statue of Tom Watson from the prominent west side entrance of the state capitol building. But not because of the controversy.
Watson was a late-19th century and early-20th century state lawmaker and member of Congress who, critics say, represented the worst of Georgia politics in the post-Reconstruction era.
Gov. Deal ordered the relocation not because of the decades-long controversy over the statue's prominent place, but because the state is planning "big renovations on the steps on that side" of the Capitol, said Deal's spokesman Brian Robinson.
The Governor's order will relocate the statue to Park Plaza, which is across the street from the Capitol. The State says moving the statue back to the Capitol after the renovations is not possible because it would be too expensive.
"Tom Watson was a first-class hater and it wasn't just Jewish people, he hated Catholics and Black people too," said Anti-Defamation League southeastern director Bill Nigut, in a 2010 story on 11 Alive News.
Watson was a prominent voice in the buildup to the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman convicted of murdering of Mary Phagan. "His anti-Semitism and racism was particularly vile," said Sen. Vincent Fort Monday. Fort says Watson whipped up racist sentiment that led to a riot in Atlanta in 1906.
"I think Tom Watson stands out because of the impact he had on the psyche of the people of this state and the region," said Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta). "It's appropriate to remove him from the front door of the people's capitol."
Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) says removing the statue sets a bad precedent in the name of "political correctness," and says the state should not be removing statues and markers and other memorials that help chart Georgia's history.
"My concern would be not only statues on the Capitol grounds, but statues everywhere across the State that deal with history. Sometimes history is not pretty. But at the same time, it is the history. Good or bad."
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Some images in the attached TV story courtesy of GeorgiaInfo.
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