KKK sign may become a ‘permanent fixture’ in small Georgia town
On February 16, a 6-foot by 2-and-a-half-foot sign depicting a Klansmen with an outstretched hand and the words "Historic Ku Klux Klan Meeting Hall" was posted high on a prominent building in the middle of Dahlonega, Georgia, along with several Confederate and KKK flags.
At first, officials thought the sign may have been placed there by one of the tenants of the building, but they soon discovered that the owner of the building, Roberta Green-Garrett, had posted them.
The sign was quickly taken down, because it violated the city's sign code by not having a permit, and the flags were later removed by an unknown citizen. However, as Mayor Gary McCullough said Friday, if the owner of the building obtained a permit, there would be nothing he could do to stop the sign from being posted.
"If it meets the requirements, we can't regulate what it says," McCullough told the Dahlonega Nugget. "The US Supreme Court says so."
The City of Dahlonega says the sign falls under free speech laws, but they hope that “those who wish to tarnish our community's reputation will ultimately rethink their tactics,” the city said in a statement updated Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the mayor confirmed one of Green-Garrett’s employees had picked up an application to put the sign back up on the building. On Friday, the Historic Preservation Commission of Dahlonega posted a picture of the permit application and said that the new sign would be a 70- by 18-inch wooden sign that could become a “permanent fixture” of the building if the city council allows the permit to go through.
After the sign was placed, the local church organized a “unity march” to protest the sign, with hundreds of angry locals gathering in front of the building on Thursday and Friday.
“It was important that a symbol like this was recognized by our community that this wasn’t something that we were going to tolerate,” Charlotte Arsenault, a pastor at Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church, told the Nugget. “We want to let our neighbors and friends that are of color know that they are a part of our community and we support them.”
A coalition of local businesses, nonprofits and students from the University of North Georgia was also formed to boycott the owner’s various businesses in town.
The city says that the sign is inaccurate, and that the building was never a meeting place for the Klan.
“At no time have we been home to an active group of known white supremacists,” the city said.
The Dahlonega Nugget editorial team says a search of their archives revealed the KKK attempted to hold a rally in Lumpkin County in 1984, and “hardly anyone attended.”
During the protests, Barbara Bridges, the property manager, told WGCL that Green-Garrett posted the sign, because the city denied her from developing a hotel in the town.
"I think she is making a statement because she would like to build a hotel," says Green. "But it seems like every time it's presented, it's turned down."
The city says Green-Garrett had submitted an application to demolish an historic building in the town, but was denied by the city's Historic Preservation Commission. They also say that the Board of Zoning Appeals denied Green-Garrett’s plans for construction on another building in town, saying she had not completed the applications.
City Council member Mitch Ridley says that he hopes the city will do anything they can to block the sign from going back up.
“I think it’s irresponsible of a business owner to damage the Dahlonega brand for their selfish personal gains. It is totally a lack of community spirit,” Ridley said. “I don’t think it will go up legally again.”
In a Facebook post by Neva Garrett, who claims to be the owner’s sister-in-law, she says the sign is justified and that it was posted in response to her family being attacked in the past.
“Indeed, some of the people posting ‘no hate in my town’ and carrying ‘no hate’ signs have bullied, or tolerated the bullying, of my own family... as well as others in this town,” Neva said. “Keep casting stones, hypocrites.”