SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – In a City Council meeting August 17, the mayor of Savannah spoke to the violence that erupted over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia and called upon members to address the impact it has had locally.
Mayor Eddie DeLoach made a statement regarding the history of two city landmarks, the Talmadge Bridge and the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park.
Regarding the Confederate monument, DeLoach hopes to, “find a way to expand the story this monument tells to be inclusive of all Savannahians, regardless of race, creed, or color, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Civil War.”
This statement comes in the wake of protests in Charlottesville where white nationalists gathered, in part, to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
The protest and resulting violence have since created a push nationally and locally to remove Confederate statues.
“Savannah has long wanted to re-name the Talmadge Bridge to a name that is more inclusive and representing of our entire community,” says DeLoach. “I hope council will join in with me in supporting a resolution to send to the Governor and the State Legislature to work with our community to achieve this goal.”
Deloach said, “We’ve done it right in the past, we’ll do it right again.”
“(Charlottesville) was all about everybody tearing everything down everywhere else. That’s not what we are that’s not what we do.”
His plan of action is twofold, including renaming the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, named after former Georgia Governor eugene Talmadge, a known suppressor of racial equality.
“I hope the council will join me and with me in supporting a resolution to send to the governor and state legislator to work without community to achieve this goal.”
The second measure is to preserve the 1875 Memorial in Forsyth Park honoring the Confederate dead, but to make some changes.
“I call on the City Manager and City Attorney to find a way to expand the story that this story tells.”
Vaughnette Goode-Walker owns a historical walking tour, and stresses the importance of the whole past, especially with the memorial.
She said, “That there were also colored Confederates who fought in this war from Savannah.”
A sentiment Deloach shares.
“If you’re a black person in this community and you walk up there and read that, you’ve got some issues with it. So what can we do to make it not that.”
And Goode-Walker added, “The preservation of the history is important because it happened and we can’t move forward unless we look back at what happened.”
Both requests have to go through the state before changes could be made.
The Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge was initially named in 1954 to honor Governor Eugene Talmadge, who was a notorious advocate of white supremacy and opponent of social and political equality.
Mayor John Rousakis requested in 1991 that the bridge be dedicated as “The Great Savannah Bridge,” but it defaulted again to the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
An association of local artists and community activists called ‘Span the Gap’ presented signed petitions in 2016 to the Chatham County State Delegation urging that the Talmadge name be removed from the bridge and replaced.
The name “The Tomochichi Bridge” was presented by the association and denied for consideration.
Mayor DeLoach also asked the council today to “embrace the whole story” of the Forsyth Park monument that pays homage to the Confederate soldiers.
The monument was erected in 1875 and placed in Forsyth Park where young soldiers trained before going to war.
The City Attorney did clarify that the State and Georgia Department of Transportation have the authority to make changes to the name of the bridge.
The City Council can send recommendations, but ultimately it is a state decision.
A law was passed in 2016 by the Georgia legislature which removes municipal authority to move or remove any monument to the military service of any personnel of the United States, the Confederate States, or any individual states.
Read Mayor Eddie DeLoach’s full statement on the Talmadge Bridge and Forsyth Park Monument from today’s City Council meeting below:
In the past week we have seen many acts of violence that have been committed in the name of hate and racism. We all must denounce these forms of domestic terrorism, and rally around each other in the name of peace and unity. We must not just be on the right side of history, but we must write the right version of history. Savannah has long wanted to re-name the Talmadge Bridge to a name that is more inclusive and representing of our entire community. I hope council will join in with me in supporting a resolution to send to the Governor and the State Legislature to work with our community to achieve this goal.
In Forsyth Park, we have a beautiful monument that pays homage to the Confederate Dead. This monument only tells a portion of our city’s unique history. While many, including myself had family members fight and die for the Confederacy, we also had citizens who fought and died to preserve the Union. We had citizens like James Moor Wayne who served as a United States Supreme Court Justice while his son served as an Adjunct General in the Confederate Army. Our nation and our families were divided. And we must embrace the whole story so we do not repeat it.
I call on the City Manager and the City Attorney to find a way to expand the story this monument tells to be inclusive of all Savannahians, regardless of race, creed, or color, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Civil War.