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Student coalition voices concern over KKK sign in Dahlonega
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June Krise holds up a sign as she listens to speakers during a press conference reguarding signage featuring Ku Klux Klan imagery recently removed from a building in downtown Dahlonega Tuesday night at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. - photo by Erin O. Smith/The Times

DAHLONEGA -- A business owner’s decision to put a Ku Klux Klan banner on a downtown building has led to several days of protests, and now a boycott by a student group at the University of North Georgia.

Dahlonega “won’t be pushed around” according to Jordan Parker, one of the five student speakers at a press conference held Tuesday evening at UNG.

The conference was held to announce a student coalition’s goal to boycott businesses owned by Roberta Green-Garrett. She owns several rental properties and the Holiday Inn Express in Dahlonega, as well as an antique mall in the town.

Green-Garrett allegedly had signage which read “Historic Ku Klux Klan Meeting Hall” placed above a building she owns in downtown Dahlonega last week. The sign and Confederate flags drew protesters and media attention before the city had it removed because it didn’t comply with local ordinances.

Students, residents and local officials suspect there is another motive behind the sign besides a racist message.

Dahlonega Walking Tours owner Penny Sharp is among those who say the banner was put up after Green-Garrett was not allowed to demolish the building to make way for a large multistory hotel.

“The first thing that has to be clarified is that there is absolutely no evidence that the KKK had anything to do with that building,” Sharp told The Times on Saturday. “And that is not just a slap in the face of the city. This is also a slap in the face of the Historic Preservation Society.”

“She’s not looking out for anyone but herself,” student Natalie Purser said at Tuesday’s gathering.

Multiple attempts to contact Green-Garrett via email and phone have been unsuccessful.

Purser passed out copies Tuesday of the official statement released by the city of Dahlonega detailing the history of Green-Garrett’s attempt to demolish the Payne-Parks and Butler buildings in downtown to build a hotel.

Regarding the sign, the city’s statement read: “An illegal sign was observed and removed from the building. Later that day the city was informally advised a filing of a complete application for both the approval of the replacement building and the demolition of the Butler building was soon to be made for the hotel. As of the posting of this article, a complete application has not been submitted.”

Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCullough told the Forsyth County News on Friday the building did not have a history with the KKK, but the city couldn’t stop the owner from replacing the sign and “we can’t limit what they put on it. They can put anything they want on it as long as it meets our regulations.”

Sharp, leader of the student group, issued a press release that declared the coalition’s support for “Dahlonega and its officials” and called the sign “disgusting.”

“I refuse to let people like that define us,” Sharp said.

Sharp said the coalition was partnering with local businesses and nonprofits, but he didn’t name any specific partners.

Local residents Bobbi Sutton and Kay Sinclair showed up to voice their concerns and find out about the boycott. Sutton and Sinclair said they were previous tenants at the antique mall Green-Garrett owns.

Both women said they saw Green-Garrett infrequently.

“She wants money. It’s all money, money, money,” Sutton said.

Kathryn Farmer came because she is also concerned.

“I’m a Realtor. People have been calling me asking me what’s going on in Dahlonega,” she said.

Farmer said she has been working in the area for the past 14 years and doesn’t like the negative publicity the town is getting.

Student Dayton Carter echoed that sentiment: “We certainly don’t support this kind of hate.”