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Old Joe - Should he stay or should he go? Depends who you ask
Legal questions also surround lease where statue stands
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The Confederate Memorial monument, commonly referred to as, "Old Joe," in downtown Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

The spray paint is long gone from alleged vandalism during a recent protest, but Gainesville’s Old Joe statue in the downtown square continues to be a local flashpoint in the now-global racial equality movement.

Some area residents are saying they would like to see the statue — a Spanish-American War soldier modified and placed as a Confederate monument in 1909 — removed or at least moved to another, more fitting location, such as the Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville.

“The Confederate statue known as Old Joe is a symbol that no longer belongs in our downtown square,” Christine Osasu wrote in a June 8 email to the Hall County Board of Commissioners.

“Old Joe honors a secessionist government that waged war against the United States to preserve a society that was built upon the enslavement of millions of people. The downtown square should be a welcoming space for all of our diverse community members. Old Joe is not perceived as a welcoming symbol for many residents.”

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Downtown Gainesville's Old Joe statue is clean of graffiti Monday, June 1, 2020, after vandals painted the base of the monument the night before during protests downtown. - photo by Scott Rogers

And Kathleen Canavan-Lima said, “The statue is a mockery, an affront, if you will, to our black brothers and sisters whose ancestors fought to stay alive while under the brutal and violent hands of slave owners. It’s a constant reminder that blacks existed solely to serve the white man.”

Ralph W. Mills, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Gainesville chapter, has a different perspective about the statue.

“I think a memorial to any soldiers should stay right where it is,” Mills said. “That monument was put there with great affirmation and celebration — and they were all over the South.”

He added: “It’s just very natural to want to put something up in honor of your sons, fathers, uncles, brothers-in-law and all these others who fought in a war. (The monuments) were not put up there to intimidate black people and that kind of thing. And we have to address the fact that the typical 19th century (person) … would be considered racist by today’s standards.”

At issue for opponents is whether a lease between Hall County government and the Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns the statue, can be broken.

Local UDC leadership couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Hall County commission “has requested that the county attorney look into this issue,” spokeswoman Katie Crumley said Friday, June 12.

The group’s lease was renewed in 2008 in the run-up to Old Joe’s centennial celebration and lasts until 2033. 

The statue has a long, polarizing history.

According to The Times’ records, it has been a target for relocation for one reason or another every couple of decades going back to at least the 1950s.

The issue most recently flared up in 2017, as Civil War monuments across the South were removed amid protests that they were lingering symbols of racism.

An August 2017 protest was held at Old Joe.

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Adam Staudacher, left, joins protesters gathered Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Confederate monument often called "Old Joe" on the Gainesville downtown square. (Ben Hendren, For The Times)

Confederate monuments throughout the South have been targeted in recent protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Tyler Dalton Moye, 24, of Gainesville, was charged with interference with government property, second-degree criminal damage to property and obstruction in the alleged spray painting of Old Joe during a May 31 protest in Gainesville.

The case has been forwarded to the Hall County District Attorney's Office, according to Hall County Magistrate Court.

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A man is arrested Sunday night after allegedly vandalizing the statue of Old Joe on the Gainesville Square May 31, 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers
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People take to downtown Gainesville Sunday, May 31, 2020, on the second night of protests in Gainesville that blocked traffic and resulted in vandalism on the square. - photo by Scott Rogers
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