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Protesters gather on Gainesville square, vow to have Confederate monument Old Joe removed
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Chairman at Northeast Georgia Democratic Socialists of America Brad Lathem welcomes protesters of the Confederate monument Old Joe in downtown Gainesville Wednesday, June 17, 2020, to discuss its removal from the downtown public square. - photo by Scott Rogers

A group of vocal, sometimes feisty protesters called for removal of the Old Joe statue in the downtown Gainesville square Wednesday night.

The group of about 85 people called on the Hall County Board of Commissioners to revoke a lease it has with Old Joe’s owner, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, that was renewed in 2008 and lasts until 2033.

“I want a commitment from the Hall County commissioners to remove this statue and replace it with something that fosters a united community where all are welcome,” Christine Osasu told the crowd.

She said the statue  — a Spanish-American War soldier modified and placed as a Confederate monument in 1909 — “honors a people, a society and a government that enslaved our black brothers and sisters and kept them as forced laborers, tortured them, raped them.”

Osasu urged the crowd “to not wait until the lease expires. … There is no such thing as an irrevocable lease.”

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

Osasu was part of a line of speakers who addressed the crowd off the Spring Street side of the square for about an hour. Occasionally, speakers turned to a handful of counter protesters on the other side of Old Joe, near a small group of Hall County sheriff’s deputies, and addressed them.

Except for the occasional taunt or jeer, the June 17 event was mostly peaceful on both sides, and the counter protesters left early.

In one tense moment, Christen Lott Hunte, one of the few African-American participants protesting Old Joe, started addressing fellow protesters when she wheeled around and faced the counter protesters.

“Your racism and your bigotry does not scare me. It does not intimidate me. It empowers me,” Hunte said. “I will continue to talk. … We’re going to continue to fight and that starts with not just dismantling this ugly thing back here, but it’s about dismantling a system.

“We’re going to continue to let our voices be heard, because if you’re going to be silent, you are going to be compliant.”

The protest ended with several chants, including “Black lives matter” and “Say his name — George Floyd.”

And a petition to remove Old Joe was being circulated.

“You’re on the right side of history, and you’re making history,” Brad Lathem of the Socialist Organization of North Georgia, told the group. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to see everybody out here standing up for what’s right, and what’s right is to get this racist statue out of our town.”

Old Joe’s place in the square has been a longtime divisive issue.

Sometimes testy comments flew in both directions on The Times’ Facebook Live video of the event.

In an interview last week, Ralph W. Mills, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Gainesville chapter, said he supports the statue staying put.

“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.”

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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

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.