Stone Mountain in Georgia depicts a beautifully-sculpted, raised relief image of the three central figures of the confederacy: President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
If there was ever a confederate monument to invoke the deepest strains of the sentiments echoed on either side of the argument for whether or not the US should keep them, it would be this one. No three figures have more historical significance for the confederate legacy than Davis, Lee, and Jackson and no three figures were more complicit in seeking to perpetuate a society in which there were slaves.
Practically a Mount Rushmore of the confederacy, this granite outcrop east of Atlanta is set to make national headlines following the racial violence over removing monuments in Charlottesville this past weekend. A Democratic candidate for Georgia governor has already proposed the carving be wiped away.
Stacey Abrams, who is trying to be the first black female Georgia governor, wrote in an email to supporters following the violence in Charlottesville that the monument “like Confederate monuments across this state, stand as constant reminders of racism, intolerance and division.”
But this isn’t any old monument. Removal would probably mean destroying a work of public art that took decades to complete and is the centerpiece of one of Georgia’s biggest tourist destinations.
Out-of-town guests, Leila Finn and Sandra Neuse, white women from nearby Avondale Estates, see the monument as a curious historical artifact, and less of a racist symbol than something like the confederate flag.
“I think it would be more productive to use it as a talking point for education than to just get rid of it,” Finn said, quickly adding, “I wouldn’t mind if they took down some of the flags.”
John Purpera stopped to see Stone Mountain with his wife while on the way to viewing the solar eclipse.
“The people that want it removed should be shot,” he said. “It’s part of history, and you shouldn’t just delete parts of history you don’t like.”
Even if Abrams wins, Georgia law makes removing the monument difficult. The law states it “shall never be altered, removed, concealed or obscured in any fashion and shall be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.”
University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said whipping the votes to change the law in the Georgia State Assembly is borderline impossible.
“That’s going to be a lot harder than pulling down a statue,” he quipped.
The monument was started in the Reconstruction era and finished following the civil rights movement and desegregation in 1972 and is deeply connected to the KKK. The white supremacist group holds a cross burning there annually. Georgia Historical Society historian Stan Deaton says these dates are not insignificant.
“As a segregated society is coming to an end, we’re going to forever enshrine these three Confederate heroes on the front of this mountain as a kind of perpetual middle finger, if you will, to the federal government,” Deaton said.
Stone Mountain has since denied the KKK a permit to return to the monument.
In a letter last week denying the permit, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association cited a disruptive 2016 clash between a white nationalist group and opponents at the park. The association “condemns the beliefs and actions of the Ku Klux Klan” and believes denying the permit “is in the best interest of all parties and is the appropriate course of action,” it said in a statement.
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