The petition to save a Confederate war statue is gaining support amid calls for its removal from a northwest Georgia cemetery.
By Friday, more than 4,800 people had signed a petition challenging efforts by Rome city officials to take down the statue honoring Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Petitioners have blamed “ANTIFA and associated protesters” for using the death of George Floyd, an African American man killed in police custody when a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for several minutes, as an excuse to attack the history of Rome “and all things associated with the South.”
They’re “using looting and rioting to scare local residents into removing this General, who still quietly guards Rome today,” they wrote. “Will you please help us by signing this petition and defend General Forrest today?”
Forrest remains a controversial figure for his early influence in the white supremacist group, which violently sought to quell advances made by African Americans in the years after the Civil War. However, supporters revere him as a hero and the man who “saved Rome” from Union troops led by Col. Abel Streight in 1863, according to the petition.
Forrest’s statue was originally placed on Broad Street in 1908 before it was moved to the Myrtle Hill Cemetery, the Rome News-Tribune reported.
On Friday, members of the Rome Community Development Services Committee met to discuss the future of the monument. The special meeting, streamed on Facebook Live, came about after two people petitioned the City Commission to get rid of it, according to the newspaper.
Wes Walraven, one of the petitioners at a June 8 meeting of the committee, told commissioners he doesn’t consider Forrest “as part of my heritage.”
“He is a part of the heritage of the Confederate States of America, an illegitimate treasonous government that lasted five years in the history of this great nation,” he said, the News-Tribune reported.
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Bobby Jones, who grew up in Rome, echoed this sentiment and told Atlanta station WSB-TV he wants to see the statue removed.
“To me the statue stands for white supremacy,” Jones told the news station. “There’s not another way to say it. The statue was erected to honor a man who formed one of the most violent racial terrorist organizations in the United States history.”
Protests against police violence and racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death have renewed calls to rid local cities and states of Confederate symbols.
In Tennessee, lawmakers recently rejected a bid to remove a bust honoring Forrest from the state Capitol, Nashville station 10 News reported. State officials in Mississippi have gone the opposite direction, submitting a resolution Wednesday to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, according to McClatchy News.
Friday’s meeting in Rome addressed the hot button issue, but city officials said it’s ultimately up to the state to decide whether to keep or remove Forrest’s statue.
A petition has also been launched in support of replacing the statue, and had nearly 5,000 signatures as of Friday.