Savannah man suing city for renaming Calhoun Square

Published: Jul. 21, 2023 at 2:58 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The controversy over the naming of one of Savannah’s squares continues.

A Savannah man is suing the city, saying it broke Georgia law when it removed John C. Calhoun’s name from a square downtown.

“I believe the City of Savannah has the right to change the name of squares that it owns,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.

The WTOC Investigates team has been digging into this since this lawsuit was filed. Savannah resident, David Tootle wants a court to stop the city from moving forward with plans to change the square’s name, and to put Calhoun’s name, and the markers back.

Back in 2019, Georgia’s law on public monuments was updated. It reads in part, “No publicly owned monument erected, constructed, created, or maintained on the public property of this state or its agencies...” which includes local governments like the City of Savannah... “...shall be relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion...”

“The reality is there’s a difference between a monument and a square. It’s very clear that there’s a difference between a monument and a square,” Mayor Johnson said.

But the law is not so clear. The state law’s definition of a monument includes plaques, markers, and names for structures.

The expanded law has yet to be tested in court on its merits.

Last October, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a case surrounding a Confederate monument in Covington, Georgia could move forward.

A hearing date has not been set yet in this case. We will continue to follow it as it develops.

Barring a court order, the Savannah-Chatham Historic Site and Monument Commission will take public comment and approve a recommendation for a new name to City Council next Thursday.

Then City Council will vote on the chosen name Aug. 24 during their meeting. Council will consider recommendations, hear any additional comments and then will officially take a vote.