It’s time for Georgia to remove an extremely offensive statue from the front of the Capitol.
For 80 years, a statue of white supremacist Thomas E. Watson has stood before the state Capitol entrance, welcoming visitors with clenched fists and false words. It serves to celebrate the most extreme episodes of racial and religious hatred in our past.
Watson won fame for promoting hate through publications he owned. He wrote that the African-American “is not any more our brother than the apes.” He defended the lynching of blacks and was for denying them the right to vote. He called Catholics “traitors” and wrote that priests imprisoned nuns for immoral purposes in convents like dungeons. He also railed against “rich Jews” and "degenerate Jews” and said that "Jews sell gentile girls into houses of prostitution."
Watson’s editorials and articles stirred anti-Semitism into a frenzy after the 1913 trial of Jewish businessman Leo Frank and contributed to the environment that led to Frank’s lynching. Watson then praised the murderers as “bold, true men" after Frank was seized from jail and lynched in 1915.
Amid many failed runs for office, Watson served just one full term as a congressman and a little more than a year as a United States senator. Despite his thin record of public service and thick record of hate, his statue occupies the most prominent spot on Georgia’s Capitol grounds: in the plaza at the front steps.
Watson was a white supremacist and a religious bigot, yet the plaque on his statue in front of the Capitol proclaims him “a champion of right who never faltered in the cause.”
Georgia’s history is graced by finer champions, and by higher causes than racism and religious hate. We urge the Georgia Legislature to take down Watson’s statue. It doesn’t represent our past, present or future. Replace it with a monument honoring one of our many great leaders — a monument that can inspire us and represent Georgia honorably to the world.