Historical house in Decatur gets new name amid ties to the Confederacy

Historical house in Decatur gets new name amid ties to the Confederacy
Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 12:08 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 9, 2022 at 8:34 AM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A house in Decatur with more than 170 years of Georgia history has a new name as of this week.

The house was originally named after a woman known as a hero of the confederacy.

Now a professional women’s group, the Junior League of Dekalb County which owns the building is changing the name because it doesn’t reflect its values.

Atlanta News First spoke to the Junior League of Dekalb County and the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization about the name change on Thursday.

”There’s actually a window where you can see up into the original beams of the house,” the Junior League of Dekalb County President, Beth Daniell said.

The house has been in Decatur for more than a century according to Daniell and it still has many of its original features, “All of the furniture in the house is of that federalist period.”

Until this week the house has been called the ‘Mary Gay’ house.

“Really it was glorifying her contribution to the confederacy,” Daniell said.

According to Daniell and historians, Mary Gay is known as a heroine of the confederacy whose family owned slaves during the Civil War era.

”She started and maintained confederate cemeteries throughout DeKalb county,” Daniell said.

Historians also said when the U.S. Army arrived in Georgia to fight against the confederacy they used Mary Gay’s house as a base camp.

Mary Gay wrote a book about it called, “Life of Dixie During the War,” where she describes black people as being a skilled race who received more than any other group in bondage.

”It does not represent anything for the Júnior League of Dekalb. She was not a member of our organization,” Daniell said.

The Junior League of Dekalb County has spent the last 40 years training women in Georgia interested in public service out of the house Mary Gay once lived in.

This November, members voted to change the name to, ‘716 West,’ a way of focusing on their group’s history and contribution to the Georgia community.

However, some members didn’t agree with the name change.

“We did hear a bit about trashing our history or rewriting our history from some of our sustaining members, and we did have three of them who resigned specifically stating the controversy around the name,” Daniell said.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans organization told Atlanta News First, they disagree with the name changes too.

”You can disagree about different things in history but the fact that you want to censor or destroy it and completely remove it or obliterate it, which is what one of the speakers called for, just strikes me as being very sad,” Spokesperson for The Son’s of Confederate Veterans organization, Martin K. O’Toole said.

O’Toole said they also don’t think the sign should be moved to the basement of the building.

“Because if you don’t study history you’re not going to learn anything from it,” O’Toole said.

The Junior League of Dekalb County said they will be moving the Mary Gay signs to the basement inside the house, where other artifacts relating to Mary Gay will be preserved in their Junior League museum.

The 716 West house is also part of the Georgia Historical Registry and because it’s on the Junior League private property they can move the signs where they desire and change the name of the location too, according to Daniell.