The statue of Thomas Watson, a Georgia United States Senator in 1920, is being removed from the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol and State Rep. Tyrone Brooks says he’s glad.
“Several years ago, I met a young photojournalist from Creative Loafing, Joeff Davis, who was dedicated to the removal of the statue of Thomas Watson from the grounds of the Georgia Capitol because of Watson’s racist reputation,” said Brooks. “This was his idea and I have been privileged to have worked with him to make this a reality.”
The former U.S. Senator, author, newspaper man, and a self-described white supremacist, Thomas Watson, is being moved from the Georgia State Capitol as a part of a construction program. Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order that allows crews to move the 12-foot-tall statue to Plaza Park, a fenced-off, state-owned park across the street.
Davis was instrumental in starting a petition campaign that resulted in getting the attention of the Georgia Governor. Deal acted to remove the Watson statue, which was reported to be offensive to many Georgia citizens. The ADL, Brooks, and many other concerned Georgia civil rights groups are grateful to Deal for his timely actions.
“We are elated by the proposed removal of the Tom Watson statue and we would like to see the statues of Sen. Richard Russell, Gov. Eugene Talmadge, and Confederate General John B. Gordon also removed from the State Capitol, as well as all the other statues which we consider offensive,” said Representative Brooks. “I link the removal of the Watson statue to the victory in the removal of the 1956 Georgia State Flag. But this is not the end of the situation or the problem. We must continue to petition the Governor and other state leaders that these old racist artifacts must be not only removed from the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol, but replaced by African-American, Native American, and Asian American monuments which represent the Georgia of today.”
In an editorial earlier this year in Creative Loafing, an Atlanta weekly newspaper, Davis wrote that he was inspired to take on the Watson campaign after attending the Moores Ford Bridge Lynching Reenactment press conference that Brooks holds every year underneath the Eugene Talmadge statue. Davis says that Brooks inspired him to look closer at other statues at the state capitol and was an early supporter of the campaign to remove the statue.
Brooks also had agreed, as part of the campaign, to write legislation in the upcoming legislative session to have the statue removed.
After doing research on Thomas Watson, Davis wrote that he discovered the statue honors a man who was a white supremacist, an anti-Semite and a religious bigot. He found some of Watson’s writings that argued that it should be legal to lynch black people and that they should not be allowed to vote. Watson’s newspaper also was outspoken in its hatred of Catholics and prejudice against Jews.
Watson is perhaps, best known for his campaign against Jewish businessman Leo Frank. After Frank was convicted in 1913 of murdering Mary Phagan, a young girl who worked in his pencil factory in Atlanta, Watson’s writings contributed to the anti-Semitic frenzy that climaxed in Frank’s lynching.
“How much more of it can we stand? How much MORE will the rich Jews RUB IT IN ON US?” Watson asked his readers just a month before Frank was seized from a jail in Milledgeville and lynched by a mob.
The mob included prominent Georgians whom Watson would later call “bold true men.” The day after Frank’s killing, the New York Times published an article in which one of Frank’s lawyers called for Watson’s prosecution for first-degree murder for the lynching of Frank.
The exact removal date and time of the statue of Thomas Watson is not known. “We encourage a celebration on the steps of the capitol when this statue comes down,” said Rep. Brooks.
(Photo: State Rep. Tyrone Brooks cheers the scheduled removal of the statue honoring early 20th century Georgia leader Tom Watson from the state Capitol grounds. Photo By Clyde Bradley)