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Hattiesburg mayor calls for dialogue on relocation of Forrest Co. Confederate monument

Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker asked Forrest County leaders to begin a dialogue regarding a more...
Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker asked Forrest County leaders to begin a dialogue regarding a more appropriate location for the Confederate monument.(Facebook)
Updated: Jun. 10, 2020 at 9:34 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker addressed calls to relocate a Confederate monument that sits beside the Forrest County Courthouse in downtown Hattiesburg Wednesday night during a Facebook live.

“History cannot be erased,” Barker said. “However, there comes a time when some symbols - whether a state flag or a monument - do not need to be front and center. Stories can be told, lessons can be taught and people can be remembered without magnifying those symbols that many rightfully deem offensive.”

Barker said the monument sits on Forrest County property and the city has no legal authority to remove it, but assured residents that the city is listening to concerns over the monument.

“In a building that represents people having access to equal rights, whether that be the court system or the ballot, is it right for people to have to walk to that building and pass under the shadow of a symbol that evokes very painful feelings regarding a very real, yet wrong, chapter in our history?" Barker asked.

Barker said Forrest County has taken steps in recent years toward reconciliation and recognizing wrongs of the past, including leading the efforts to build a statue commemorating civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer.

“I trust their ability to lead on this issue,” Barker said. "I’m asking them and offering the city’s assistance to begin a real dialogue about the future of that monument and actively explore a more appropriate location for it to live.”

The mayor said he is grateful for those who chose to raise their voices and peacefully protest.

“We work across agencies and departments to provide safe environments to peacefully assemble, because when the entire world is looking for an opportunity pinpoint negativity and tear down efforts to make a better community, we have the opportunity to be different," Barker said. "We have the opportunity to spark hope and change for the days and weeks to come through healthy conversation. So know that when you speak, we will listen.”

You can watch Barker’s full address below:

Good evening, and thank you for joining us. Over the past few weeks, we have been reminded of some uncomfortable truths about our world. We cannot run from it, or ignore it or pretend it’s not as bad as it appears or simply say “not in my city.” We should be willing to examine ourselves and our community and then acknowledge that all is not right. Many have begun asking questions – some of which are uncomfortable. Questions about fairness. Questions about our own worldviews. And in our own community, questions about some collective symbols that still remain. Symbols matter. They reflect the values and character of communities. A symbol shines light on what is seemingly important to the people it represents. History cannot be erased. However, there comes a time when some symbols - whether a state flag or a monument - do not need to be front and center. Stories can be told, lessons can be taught and people can be remembered without magnifying those symbols that many rightfully deem offensive. Many have asked about the Confederate monument in our downtown that sits beside the courthouse. That monument is owned by Forrest County. It sits on county property, and the city has no legal authority to move it. However, to those who have reached out and voiced their support for it being relocated…I hear you. In a building that represents people having access to equal rights – whether that be the court system or the ballot – is it right for people to have to walk to that building and pass under the shadow of a symbol that evokes very painful feelings regarding a very real yet wrong chapter in our history? I want you to also know that the leadership of Forrest County has taken great steps – bold steps – in recent years toward reconciliation, recognizing the wrongs of the past and honoring those who fought for the rights of everyone. It was the county that led the effort to erect a very different statue on the other side of the courthouse, one honoring civil rights hero Vernon Dahmer. I trust their ability to lead on this issue. I am asking them and offering the city’s assistance to begin a real dialogue about the future of that monument and actively explore a more appropriate location for it to live. I understand the passion that comes along with an issue such as this. I have listened to the collective sense of pain, frustration and grief over these past several days. I am grateful to those who have raised their voices in peaceful assemblies, and I know the protests in our city will continue to be peaceful as they occur in the days and weeks to come. We work across agencies and departments to provide safe environments to peacefully assemble. Because when the entire world is looking for an opportunity to pinpoint negativity and tear down efforts to make a community better, we have the opportunity to be different. We have the opportunity to spark hope and change for the days and weeks to come through healthy conversation. So know that when you speak, we will listen. One quote that has guided me throughout these past two weeks has been one made by theologian Theodore Parker in the 1800s. Dr. Martin Luther King paraphrased it a century later to say: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And the question we must ask ourselves and that we must ask as a community is: How can we – together – be part of bending that arc - and bending it more quickly - especially for those who need it most? Because our collective trajectory is indeed one moving toward more justice, more compassion and more acceptance. This movement will force us to see each other first and foremost through the lens of our shared humanity, which will then affect our attitudes, our perceptions and of course, our symbols. Thank you.

Posted by Toby Barker on Wednesday, June 10, 2020

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