Savannah mayor proposes bridge rename, adding to Civil War monument

(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - During Thursday's Savannah City Council meeting, Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach stated that the city is beginning the process of renaming the perceived racist name of the Talmadge Bridge and adding to the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park.

The City of Savannah will send a resolution to the Governor Nathan Deal's Office on renaming the Talmadge Bridge.

The bridge is named after Eugene Talmadge, a three-term governor in Georgia who publicly held racist and segregationist views.

Mayor DeLoach said in his statement before the council that Savannah has wanted to change the name of the bridge for a long time.

There's a public forum for the community to talk about the renaming of the bridge coming up at the beginning of next month, led by former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson.

Mayor DeLoach supported his push for the resolution outside council chambers following the meeting.

"We're moving in the right direction, so I feel like I represent the people can cause problems in our community, so what can we do about it," Mayor DeLoach said.

Savannah needs state approval to rename the bridge. We're reaching out to state leaders to see what they think about the resolution, and what could be next at the state level.

"Savannah should be a place of inclusion and welcoming, not some of the practices of Governor Talmadge of being exclusionary," said Alderman Van Johnson, District 1, Savannah. "We need to be able to portray a new image of Savannah, a new image of Georgia."

The mayor says he hopes the name of the bridge can be changed to something that represents the whole community.

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach also stated that the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park does not tell both sides of the story. He will ask City Manager Rob Hernandez to begin the process of looking at ways to expand the monument to be more inclusive for all Savannahians.

"We lead by example and I wanted to make sure we did that as a council. We got a great council and they had the same feeling I did. We wanted to express our concern about what is taking place and let people know that we do understand that we trying to do what we feel like is right as a community," said Mayor DeLoach.

The monument is to remember the Confederate dead but the mayor believes more should be added to it to represent all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Civil War.

Mayor DeLoach called it a beautiful monument and acknowledged he had family members fight and die for the Confederacy. He felt moved to explain how he believes the city should embrace the whole story so we do not repeat it. Whole story meaning possibly adding on or having space for recognition to include all Savannahians.

"I'm very proud in terms of people coming to terms with accepting change, making sure that we can change things moving forward, and I think that's a good thing," said June Parina, Visiting Savannah.

It is against the law to move or change monuments like the one in Forsyth, City Attorney Brooks Stillwell did explain that but he went on to say honoring other people is not a problem.

"It is a focal point for our community. It would be easy for us to go in there and make it an all-inclusive monument based on what it says and what it stands for and you could add the right comment, the right statements on the monument and it would fit perfectly in our community, because we are an inclusive community," Mayor DeLoach said.

Alderwoman Carol Bell spoke on how she would like the city to maintain unity. Many of the council members acknowledged a need for public feedback. Alderman Tony Thomas acknowledged they will need a large space like the Civic Center to hold a public forum because so many people have an interest in this topic.

Alderman Van Johnson told everyone we are the "Hostess City", and we need to exemplify that.

"Do we still have those Confederate ideals, nationalist ideals? Are we being a welcoming community? Are we loving and appreciating people and being tolerant of people for who they are and what they bring to the table in 2017? Rather than those views in a time in our nation and our city that we are not so proud of," Alderman Thomas said.

Hernandez has been asked to set a date for a public forum on these issues. We will let you know when that date is.

When the mayor was asked about if this could bring violence or fighting, he said no, not with Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Chief Jack Lumpkin around.

[Below is Mayor DeLoach's full statement:]

In the past week we have seen many acts of violence that have been committed in the name of hate and racism. We all must denounce these forms of domestic terrorism, and rally around each other in the name of peace and unity. We must not just be on the right side of history, but we must write the right version of history. Savannah has long wanted to re-name the Talmadge bridge to a name that is more inclusive and representing of our entire community. I hope council will join in with me in supporting a resolution to send to the Governor and the State Legislature to work with our community to achieve this goal.

Some more information about the history of the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park.

The tall, bronze soldier you see today was not the original monument. Two statues, "Judgment" and "Silence", were first unveiled in 1875.

With unfavorable reviews, they were removed. The new monument was unveiled four years later.

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