A handful of historical markers honoring Black Georgians have been vandalized in recent months, including a sign recognizing the birthplace of baseball legend Jackie Robinson that was found riddled with bullet holes last week.
The marker, erected in the rural South Georgia town of Cairo in 2001, was targeted by unknown vandals in what historians are calling “a disturbing uptick” in destruction to signs related to Black history, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the abolition of slavery.
“It’s hard to imagine that it’s just a coincidence,” Todd Groce, president and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s either these markers have struck a nerve with people [in a way] that contradicts something that they’ve been taught in the past, or something’s happening in society that has triggered this kind of violent reaction.”
The “Birthplace of Jackie Robinson” plaque is part of the history group’s Civil Rights Trail series, which includes 44 markers commemorating “the economic, social, political and cultural history of the Civil Rights Movement” in Georgia.
Robinson made history as the first Black player to integrate Major League Baseball in 1947 and was a voice in the push for civil and human rights.
Officials said the marker was hit multiple times by gunfire, piercing the thick aluminum frame. The sign will likely have to be recast, and GHS officials are working on getting the funds to replace it, Groce told McClatchy News.
He said the assailants used a shotgun and pistol to damage the marker.
“Jackie Robinson was a pioneer in the integration of Major League Baseball and someone whose accomplishments should bring pride to all Americans,” Georgia Historical Society Board Member Errol B. Davis Jr. said in a statement. “This is a shameful act of vandalism that unfortunately has been carried out against several other markers that commemorate Civil Rights figures, in Georgia and beyond.”
Last October, state officials were forced to remove a historical marker about the horrific lynching of a pregnant Black woman after vandals struck it with “some kind of off-road vehicle,” leaving it severely cracked, McClatchy News reported.
The “Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage of 1918” marker honored the 13 victims in a string of lynchings that occurred in Lowndes County. Turner, who was 21 years old and eight months pregnant at the time, was among those killed. The damaged marker was placed in storage, and a steel cross bearing Turner’s name has since gone up in its place.
A sign commemorating Flat Rock African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fayette County was also previously defaced, as was a marker noting the end of General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea in Savannah, according to the Georgia Historical Society.
Recent damage to the Jackie Robinson sign “underscores the need for an endowment for the GHS historical marker program that will help us replace this marker and others like it and ensure that our commitment to telling all of Georgia’s history will not be subject to other senseless acts of destruction,” Groce said in a statement.
The incident was reported to the Grady County Sheriff’s Office and is under investigation, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.