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Atlanta Statue of Provocation | News

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Atlanta Statue of Provocation

ATLANTA -- As Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes ramp of their campaigns for the governor's office, there is a reminder of the complexity of state politics just outside the office on the state capitol grounds.

The Tom Watson statue has been a point of contention for decades.

It is also one of the most famous pieces of public art in the world.

The Watson bronze has stood in downtown Atlanta since the 1920's. Strangely it wasn't officially commemorated until December 1932.

The lawyer, writer, state legislator and United States senator is depicted with his lower leg forward and his left hand raised in a fist, always a fist.

"A vast majority of Atlantans walk by the statue and have no idea what he stood for -- if they did -- they wouldn't have it there," said Anti-Defamation League Southeast Regional Director Bill Nigut.

"Tom Watson was a first class hater and it wasn't just Jewish people, he hated Catholics and Black people too." added Nigut.

Because of the writings of Tom Watson, the ADL grew from a small group in Chicago to a major force for human rights. Watson stirred the lynch mob that killed Leo Frank after his death sentence for the murder of Mary Phagan was commuted. It is one of the most infamous murder cases in American history.

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D), a historian at Morehouse College, says Mr. Watson also helped stir the Atlanta race riot of 1906, America's then-worst, after pushing the idea that African American men should be erased from political representation.

"The things he did and said were evil," said Sen. Fort.

Watson had been a proponent of black men having the right to vote. Georgia history professor Cliff Kuhn says Watson began his career after the Civil War as a man representing poor farmers. He served as a bridge between black and white men. However, something happened along the way that changed him.

"Without a doubt Tom Watson behaved in a dispicable manor around the Frank case, he behaved in a dispicable way around the Atlanta race riots and acted viciously toward Catholics." added Kuhn.

" I would love to see the statue gone." Nigut said.

So would Sen. Fort, "I come to prayer vigils, and human rights rallies next to this statue, and there is an irony there standing next to Tom Watson." 

Kuhn, however, wants the statue to remain in place.

"If we erase the monument, we lose the chance to teach people about the life and times of Tom Watson," he said.