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Sigma Chi Memorial shows another side of Clayton’s Civil War history

Monuments turns 75 this month

The white marble cross known as the Sigma Chi Memorial sits on a hill overlooking Tara Boulevard, but many residents may not know the history behind it. The monument, which commemorates a Civil War chapter of the college fraternity, turns 75 this month. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

The white marble cross known as the Sigma Chi Memorial sits on a hill overlooking Tara Boulevard, but many residents may not know the history behind it. The monument, which commemorates a Civil War chapter of the college fraternity, turns 75 this month. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

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Harry St. John Dixon

LOVEJOY — Thousands of drivers pass a white marble cross on a hill overlooking Tara Boulevard just north of Lovejoy every day and it’s possible they may not know why it is there.

A Clayton County Parks and Recreation sign at 11001 Tara Blvd. marks it as the “Sigma Chi Memorial,” but someone would have to pull off the road and walk up to the granite monument to discover why it is there and what it means. The cross is the symbol of Sigma Chi fraternity.

But residents may ask why the county has a monument dedicated to a college fraternity? Or they may just drive by and not even notice it’s there.

Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau sales director Beth Bailey said CVB staff, who get asked tons of questions about the area’s history and its ties to “Gone With the Wind,” rarely get inquiries about the memorial.

“We maybe get one or two questions from people wanting to know what it is,” said Bailey. “I think we as residents don’t always know what we have in our own backyard and maybe people drive by it every day and just don’t know what it is.”

The monument is there, however, because it marks the county’s role in what the fraternity considers a significant chapter in its history. It’s a history that ties into events that took place during the Battle of Jonesborough (as Jonesboro was spelled at the time).

However, although that history is written out on the monument, it is lost in the sign that the county erected in part because it doesn’t list the correct name of the monument.

The marker at the county-run park is not simply “The Sigma Chi Memorial.” If a resident opened up Sigma Chi’s membership guidebook, “The Norman Shield,” its history website or its monuments and memorials guide, they would find it listed as both the “Constantine Memorial” and the “Constantine Chapter Memorial.”

A painting of the chapter and the memorial hangs in the fraternity’s museum in Evanston, Ill., according to the Sigma Chi Monuments and Memorials guide.

Sigma Chi records state a group of confederate soldiers who were members of the fraternity founded the unofficial Constantine Chapter near the site of the memorial. The soldiers and fraternity brothers, led by a University of Virginia graduate named Harry St. John Dixon, established the chapter Sept. 17, 1864.

A little more than two weeks before that meeting, Jonesborough had fallen to Union troops, which was the final act that led to the fall of Atlanta. But Sigma Chi records show that even as Union troops were sweeping through the area, Sigma Chis were trying to retain their ties to their northern brothers.

It was a way to give Sigma Chis fighting in the Atlanta campaign a way to keep track of each other, according to the records.

“From their meeting sprang new hope for reunifying their fraternity — in the North and South,” the Monuments and Memorials guide states. “Sigma Chi sought unity, even during intense division, and it would survive the Civil War through Dixon’s acts and his inspiration.”

The chapter last met Jan. 1, 1865, records show.

The chapter’s name was inspired by the Roman Emperor Constantine, who brought Christianity to the Roman Empire and is an inspiration behind Sigma Chi’s ideals, according to fraternity records. Constantine’s cross is the symbol of the fraternity.

The Norman Shield states the memorial was erected 75 years ago this month and it was re-dedicated in 1979. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the chapter.

The memorial’s birthday, and the anniversary of the chapter’s founding are some of the many significant anniversaries that will be observed this year.

The Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc. have planned several events throughout the year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the film version of “Gone With the Wind” — which was partially set in Clayton County — as well as the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Jonesborough.

Sigma Chi officials plan to commemorate the anniversary of the Constantine Chapter with a ceremony to be held Sept. 20.