Change is coming to the nation's largest Confederate monument. Are they enough? | CNN (2023)


Changesannounced last weekin Georgia's Stone Mountain Park, home to the country's largest Confederate monument, are "the boldest step" in the park since the state purchased it decades ago, according to a park official.

Critics, however, say it's not bold enough.

The park's board voted unanimously, but with one abstention, according to its president, last Monday to add an exhibit to an existing museum that will tell "the whole story" of the monument, a giant sculpture of Confederate leaders on horseback. , including the story of the Ku Klux Klan on the Mountain and its revival there in 1915, among other things.

“We took appropriate action, and it's the boldest action ever taken at Stone Mountain Park since the park was acquired in 1962,” said Bill Stephens, executive director of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association (SMMA), which oversees the park. . about 15 miles east of Atlanta. "There's been virtually no change to Confederate imagery or anything since then, and now we're moving forward."

But critics remain as impassive as the granite from which the monument was carved. They say the changes are being overdone, especially in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and renewed calls for the removal of Confederate monuments and symbols across the country.

Change is coming to the nation's largest Confederate monument. Are they enough? | CNN (1)

A Confederate flag, left, flies at the base of Stone Mountain Park.

“They really make a lot of ado about nothing,” said Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta NAACP. "These changes mean nothing."

“We see what they did as completely shallow,” said Dennis Collard, an attorney and founding member of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition, a group founded last year to bring about change in the park.

The council also voted to move the Confederate flags, the battle flag among them, from their current heavily trafficked location at the base of the trail leading up the mountain, to a darker location, and to remove the Confederate carving of the SMMA logo. .

“It's just moving a few chess pieces around the park, so to speak,” Collard said. "When what really needs to happen is the Confederacy and Stone Mountain Park need to divorce."

“There was a lot of anger” when the changes were announced, Collard said. This is not surprising, as the mountain, Georgia's top tourist attraction, stirs strong emotions in people on both sides of the argument for and against the monument.

Stacey Abrams, 2018 Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia,tweeted in 2017that hoist "remains a plague in our state and must be eliminated".

Ron Harris/AP The nation's largest Confederate monument is hosting a new exhibit that tells the 'full story' of Stone Mountain, Georgia

However, the sculpture is currently protected by Georgia law,which establishes that“The Heroes of the Confederate States of America Monument etched into the face of Stone Mountain will never be altered, removed, hidden or obscured in any way and will be forever preserved and protected as a tribute to bravery and heroism. of the citizens of this state who have suffered and died because of it."

But it's not just the sculpture, which depicts Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. The park's streets are named after the three, and next to the flags is the Confederate Hall, which has science exhibits, classrooms and war documentaries. A lake in the park is named after the family that owned it when the Ku Klux Klan regularly met there.

"You're not going to be able to please everybody, but we're trying to at least get to some kind of common ground where we can all get along," said SMMA president Reverend Abraham Mosley, the first black man to lead the association.

Mosley has been friends with Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, for about 30 years, he said, and has known Kemp's wife for about 10 years longer than that. Kemp asked him to chair the association, he said, and Mosley took over last month.

“I'm happy with the start,” Mosley said of the changes to the park. “To walk a mile, you have to take the first step. We have been stagnant for a long time.”

Change is coming to the nation's largest Confederate monument. Are they enough? | CNN (3)

Summit of Stone Mountain Park.

What cannot be overlooked is the financial impetus for change at Stone Mountain Park. Revenue dropped about 60% last year, from about $59 million in 2019 to about $22 million in 2020, CEO Stephens said.

"It's hard to exactly quantify a number" of the loss the Confederate problem is causing and what can be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, Stephens said.

“I can say that we lost business with the big corporations that used to do business with our hotels and come to the park for meetings, which they don't do anymore because of the Confederation issue,” said the CEO.

Herschend Family Entertainment, the company that manages hotel and entertainment operations in the park, has given notice that it will withdraw from its decades-long association with the park effective August 2022, and Marriott, which operates two hotels in the park, is pulling out. at the same time, Stephens said.

The Confederate sculpture on Stone Mountain depicts Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Kevin D. Liles for CNN In Stone Mountain, Georgia, hikers try to overcome their racial history

“Part of the reason was the Confederacy issue, with some of the protests and stuff that we've had here at the park,” Stephens said. “It also creates economic reasons.”

The mountain was the site of many Ku Klux Klan meetings over the years, from 1915 until the state purchased the property in 1958, the SMMA said this week, and has been a regular meeting place for demonstrations by white supremacist groups. And that brings up groups that oppose them.

Some of these meetings were carefully managed, with police in riot gear breaking up opposition groups that included people openly carrying weapons. And some planned meetings have moved the park to close entirely for the day.

Children of Confederate Veterans

But the economy wasn't the only reason for the move, said Stephens, a former representative from Georgia.

"It's right. It's where we are in society, and our board strongly believes that changes must be made, not just for economic reasons."

Martin O'Toole, spokesman for the Georgia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says other entertainment venues have suffered even more financially in the past year than the park.

“Before the covid hit, they had no attendance issues,” O'Toole said of the park. “So what I think they are trying to do is try to push Covid as an opportunity for them to censor.”

“What I find most objectionable is their desire to contextualize the park, because Stone Mountain Memorial Park (Confederate Memorial Park is the full name of the statute) is protected by law,” O'Toole said. “What you have is a number of people who would like to get rid of it,” but they can't because it's protected by law.

"So what they want to do is put their own spin on everything," O'Toole said.

Change is coming to the nation's largest Confederate monument. Are they enough? | CNN (5)

Members of far-right militias and white pride organizations gather near Stone Mountain Park in 2020.

The Georgia chapter of the SCV has a complete sectionfrom your websitededicated to the park and its vision of a historic park, much like Williamsburg, with actors in period costume and reenactors in uniform.

For the Sons of the Confederacy, the park's symbols represent "the sacrifices of the people of the South during the war, both those who served in the military and my ancestor who went to Elmira Prison," a Union prisoner. . from the war camp in New York, O'Toole said, and other relatives had their homes burned and their property destroyed.

But, as historians and critics point out, the story of Stone Mountain has nothing to do with the Civil War. No significant battles were fought there. The disputed sculpture was begun in 1915 by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who later created Mount Rushmore. The sculpture was worked on from time to time over the years, but was not completed until 1970.

A Georgia-born artist would like to see "Two Dope Boyz in a Cadillac" on Stone Mountain. Courtesy of Mack Williams Petition: Add Outkast to Confederate Sculpture in Stone Mountain

“These carvings relate to the fact that the Ku Klux Klan started meeting there,” said Rose. He noted that C. Helen Plane, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who proposed a Confederate monument on the mountain in 1915, wanted Klansmen to be depicted on the sculpture.

“Since I saw this wonderfully beautiful image of Reconstruction in the South, I feel it is due to the Ku Klux Klan, who saved us from black domination and brat domination, immortalized in Stone Mountain,” he wrote. "Why not picture a small group of them in their night uniforms approaching from a distance?"

Change is coming to the nation's largest Confederate monument. Are they enough? | CNN (7)

Confederate Salon at Stone Mountain Park.

The idea for the sculpture came about during the height of the "Lost Cause" period in Georgia. White Southerners argued that states' rights, rather than slavery, led these men to take up arms against the federal government during the Civil War.

Historians say wartime documents show that Southern politicians believed their motivation was to preserve slavery.

Rose and historians have pointed out that every small step forward for black civil rights during Brown v. Board of Education, for example, efforts have been made to work on size.

WSB NAACP: Banish Confederate Symbols from Stone Mountain in Georgia

The monument, said Rose, "is just an exercise in white supremacy."

“They continue this farce by claiming some monument, some connection to Confederate taxes. It's really a tax on white supremacy."

For Mosley, who chairs the association charged by state law with maintaining a "proper and convenient" monument to the Confederacy, Stone Mountain would be "just a big rock" without the sculpture.

"Then he tells his story, the good and the bad," Mosley said.

“Some of my friends want me to go out with a bag of dynamite and blow it up, but that's not the mountain to move,” Mosley said. “The mountain that must be moved is skin color. That's what we should be working on, moving that mountain."

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