“This is something that we are seeing more and more, [historical markers] be vandalized not just with paint or something, but be vandalized with guns, ”Georgia Historical Society president and CEO Todd Groce told CNN.
The markers are a launching pad in the often racist history of Georgia and the United States, Groce said. The recent acts of vandalism reflect the relevance of this story, he said.
Two signs have been drawn in the past year
The Georgia Historical Society received reports that the Robinson marker was damaged last week and sent a member to Cairo, Ga., Robinson’s birthplace, to investigate.
The member discovered that the panel had been hit on both sides, Groce said.
Lt. Daniel Lindsay of the Grady County Sheriff’s Office said the bullet holes appeared to be from a shotgun. But since the sign is located in a remote area of the county and investigators do not have a precise timeline of when the vandalism occurred, they have yet to identify any suspects, he told CNN.
Georgia Historical Society board member Erroll B. Davis Jr., former chancellor of the Georgia university system, spoke out against the damage to the marker of Robinson, the Major League Baseball star whose success in breaking the color barrier of sport “should be the pride of all Americans.”
“This is a shameful act of vandalism that has unfortunately been committed against several other markers that commemorate civil rights figures, in Georgia and beyond,” Davis said in a statement.
Turner’s lynching marker was covered with so many bullet holes that it had to be taken apart and re-melted, Groce said.
“It looks like a sieve,” he says.
Both Turner and Robinson’s signs are found in rural Georgia, near the exact location of the events they commemorate. While the locations are precise, they are often isolated, which “creates opportunities for mischief,” Groce said.
Signs of vandalization in black history are increasingly common
Historical markers get damaged quite often, Groce said, usually in car accidents or severe weather events. But finding signs that have been attacked has become more common, he said.
Groce declined to speculate on the vandals’ motives, but said it was telling that they distinguished signs that commemorate black history.
“There is something about these stories that they don’t like,” Groce said. “The fact that they used guns also tries to send a very strong message to us and anyone else about the story itself.”
The Georgia Historical Society’s limited budget would not allow such methods of protection for its historical markers, Groce said.
Instead, they’ll likely move the panels. Groce said once the group of historians redesign the sign for Turner and other lynching victims, they will place it along a well-traveled road. That way, he said, more people can see it and there’s less chance of it being vandalized.
“All Americans of all races have to come to terms with these stories,” Groce said of the stories told on historical markers. “It illustrates who we are. Sometimes it says pretty ugly things about us.”
The purpose of the markers, he said, is to start difficult conversations and shed light on people and events that had previously been erased. Even though they can’t pay to protect them, historians intend to keep them public.