DAHLONEGA — A sign removed from a Dahlonega building featuring Ku Klux Klan imagery could make a return.
Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCullough told the Forsyth County News on Friday officials with the building have applied for a new sign after the one depicting a Klansman with an outstretched hand and the words “Historic Ku Klux Klan Meeting Hall” was taken down due to a violation of the city’s sign code.
“They don’t have to put what’s on it until they bring it to us to be approved,” McCullough said. “According to the U.S. Constitution … we can’t limit what they put on it. They can put anything they want on it as long as it meets our regulations.
“That’s been all the way to the Supreme Court.”
The sign brought attention and protesters to the town square — the sign had been seen hanging from the permanently closed Piazza Italian restaurant on the Jeremiah Payne House — on Thursday and Friday.
While Thursday’s was smaller and more of a reaction to the sign having appeared overnight, from 4-6 p.m. Friday a protest was held in Dahlonega that Anita Tucker, a former Democratic candidate for the Forsyth County Board of Education, said brought 300 to 400 people at the peak.
“It’s sad that anyone feels that doing such a thing is OK,” Tucker said. “It’s like we are reverting back to the 1950s, when it was OK for hate speech and to be openly hateful.”
Confederate and Klan flags were also placed with the sign but were later removed by an unknown citizen.
“Everybody I hear from thinks it’s a terrible thing,” McCullough said. “They sneak in in the middle of the night and put the sign up and put the flags up, so everybody is pretty upset in Dahlonega.”
McCullough said the sign was placed by employees of the property’s owner — who he said are not from Dahlonega or Lumpkin County.
“She’s in Florida, but her manager is up here and she went to City Hall for an application to put up a sign,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s for the same one. She’s got to bring a form down there with a sign to get it approved by the city.”
He said the owner also wanted to build a hotel on the property and said she was not satisfied with a previous zoning.
“She’s trying to build something there and she doesn’t want to follow our regulations … It’s within the historical preservation commission area, and she’s got to follow our rules,” McCullough said. “We approved one and then she decided she wouldn’t do it — she wanted to build what she wanted to, so that’s where we’re at right now.”
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’s Tucker said the owner went about issues with the city the wrong way.
“She needs to understand that the way she expressed her vindictiveness is unacceptable,” she said. “She’s sending a message that society does not approve of.”
McCullough also said the building did not have a history with the KKK.
“No, that was a 5-and-dime store and then it had restaurants in it,” he said. “It’s got rental rooms upstairs.”
Overall, he said, he is waiting for the matter to blow over.
“I’ll be happy when it’s over,” McCullough said. “We’re not a racist community and we try to get along and love one another, but evidently that’s not the word all over.”