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Downed banner still has townfolk buzzing in Dahlonega
Many say building owners dispute with city likely led to sign, which may return
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The Butler Mini-Mall, on the right, is the Dahlonega building where a sign featuring Ku Klux Klan imagery was removed last week. The sign brought attention and protesters to the town square on Thursday and Friday. - photo by Erin O. Smith

DAHLONEGA — Emotions are still running hot in this Lumpkin County town after a controversial pro-Ku Klux Klan banner was hung from a building off of the Historic Dahlonega Square late last week.

The banner, reading “Historic Ku Klux Klan Meeting Hall,” was hung from the Historic Butler Mini-Mall Building on Main Street. It was quickly removed by city workers on grounds that it violated a city sign ordinance.

But since then, hundreds of protesters, local residents and business owners have spoken out against the banner.

“Growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t have the history of the Ku Klux Klan, so it’s kinda a shocking thing to see, I guess,” local resident Frank Gilkeson said.

That was the common feeling as more than a hundred protesters gathered in the square Friday to condemn it.  

“I was in disbelief,” said Jordan Dockery, a University of North Georgia alumnus and Dahlonega native. “I couldn’t believe something that offensive and contextually hateful was displayed so publicly in the town that I grew up in. I had never seen anything like it.”

But the strongest reaction comes from nearby business owners who fear the banner might return.

“I think initially a lot of people in town were really concerned because it is a hateful organization that really doesn’t discriminate in who they dislike,” said Deb Rowe, co-owner of the two Dahlonega restaurants, Shenanigan’s and Bourbon Street Grille.

“And I think that initially the city wanted to show people that this isn’t what Dahlonega stands for.”

Dahlonega Walking Tours owner Penny Sharp is among those convinced the banner was put up for different reasons by the building’s owner, Roberta Green-Garrett. She and others believe Green-Garrett had the banner hung after she was not allowed to demolish the building to make way for a large multistory hotel.

“The first thing that has to be clarified is that there is absolutely no evidence that the KKK had anything to do with that building,” Sharp said. “And that is not just a slap in the face of the city, this is also a slap in the face of the Historic Preservation Society.”

Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCullough also told the Forsyth County News on Friday the building did not have a history with the KKK. He said the city couldn’t stop the owner from replacing the sign and “we can’t limit what they put on it. They can put anything they want on it as long as it meets our regulations.”

Green-Garrett, who McCullough says lives in Florida, could not be reached for comment Saturday.

“A lot of people fell for it, but I didn’t because I knew it was a ploy,” said Catherine Ariemma, owner of the Dahlonega Square Hotel & Villas. “Anyone who is a property owner downtown knows that you aren’t going to just let a sign go up without having something to do with it.”  

Sharp remains hopeful that the city will retain its historic establishments.

“Based on the response we have seen in the city, people are clearly not going to let this happen,” she said.

The Times reported in February 2016 the building may be torn down to make way for an upscale, boutique hotel and that members of the citizens group Preserve Historic Dahlonega opposed the move, claiming the new development would not “fit with the character of the city.”

The building survived the Civil War and a hotel fire nearby in 1904. It is recognized as the second oldest building standing in the historic district.

Forsyth County News reports contributed to this story.