A Georgia city is scheduled to unveil a memorial to “comfort women” — the mostly Korean women who were forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II — on Friday after a museum in Atlanta earlier this year cancelled plans to install the statue.
The city of Brookhaven, located about 10 miles north of Atlanta, will become the first place in the Deep South with a comfort women memorial statue, Helen Ho, consultant and special adviser to the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force, which spearheaded the effort, told NBC News.
The statue was originally set for installation at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, but the center, citing logistical reasons, said it would not be able to move forward with the project. Members of the task force believe the cancellation was motivated by monetary and political reasons.
“It was a hard won fight and we’re very excited and grateful for the incredible leadership that has been displayed by the City of Brookhaven,” Ho told NBC News.
During WWII, an estimated 200,000 women from countries including Korea, China, Indonesia, and the Philippines, were forced to serve Japanese soldiers in military-run brothels, according to research cited by the Comfort Women Justice Coalition.
Comfort women memorials have been a contentious issue, with advocates arguing that the Japanese government has not issued an official or sufficient apology for what happened during WWII, while opponents say there is no evidence to support that women were forced into sex slavery.
Shortly after news of the cancellation in Atlanta broke out, Brookhaven City Councilman John Park reached out to Ho to offer Brookhaven as a home for the statue.
“I thought it was something we could achieve in spite of pressure,” Park told NBC News.
“When I looked at the reports, it seemed pretty much that all backlash came from the Japanese government. It wasn’t from local players,” he added. “I knew that was going to be the case and they were going to apply pressure. I was definitely concerned about it, but I thought that this was something that was needed.”
NBC News has reached out to the Japanese Consulate in Atlanta for comment.
The city received phone calls and emails opposing the comfort women memorial, Park said. But last month, the Brookhaven City Council unanimously approved a resolution to accept a donation of the comfort women memorial statue, which is expected to be housed at Blackburn II Park.
Despite the hurdles the task force encountered in finding a location for the statue, the original plans that fell through were “a gift,” Ho said.
“No amount of educational events would have penetrated the public consciousness as much as the media coverage that we got,” she said. “We won multiple times over in ways that if we had been successful putting up that statue in the first place, less people would’ve known about it.”
Atlanta is a large hub for human trafficking in the United States, according to a 2014 study by The Urban Institute for the Department of Justice, and its illegal sex industry is estimated to generate millions of dollars per year. Brookhaven is a local leader in the fight against sex trafficking, Ho said.
“I think the goal in terms of the memorial was to find the right home, and the right home would be one that embraced the truth and history of comfort women and that were genuinely, authentically committed to the fight against sex trafficking, regardless of where the women came from,” she said.
Brookhaven joins other cities across the United States that have also installed memorial statues, including Palisades Park and Union City, New Jersey; Southfield, Michigan; Fairfax County, Virginia; and Glendale, California.
The city of San Francisco earlier this year granted final approval for the installation of a comfort women memorial later this year. It is expected to become the first major U.S. city to install a memorial.