Leave Stone Mountain Alone


Many want to wipe away

all vestiges of the Confederacy

In the wake of racially motivated shootings at an historic black church in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine members of the congregation — and hot on the heels of several, questionable, police-involved shootings around the nation from which unarmed black men lost their lives — there is a movement afoot, locally, to erase all vestiges of the Confederacy from Stone Mountain and its surrounding park, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Georgia.

There is a petition currently circulating on the internet asking that supporters sign on, in an effort to get the powerful Coca-Cola Company to “drop its sponsorship of Stone Mountain” and “Stop Bankrolling White Supremacy.”

The appeal also states: “On the evening of November 25, 1915, a group of men clad in robes and hoods ascended to the top of Stone Mountain, the largest mass of exposed granite in the world, 15 miles east of Atlanta, Georgia. Once on top, the men ignited a flaming cross, signalling the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been dormant for 40 years. The events of that night set decades of white supremacist violence and terror by the KKK in motion, with Stone Mountain at the center.

“One hundred years later, and the mountain has been transformed into Stone Mountain Park, Georgia’s number one tourist attraction. The park — which draws an estimated 4 million visitors per year, and includes Coca-Cola as one of it’s biggest corporate sponsors — features several confederate memorials, including a reconstructed Antebellum Plantation, a ‘Confederate Hall,’ and a Civil War Museum. The most famous and prominent attraction, however, is the face of the mountain itself, which is carved with the image of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis riding on horseback.

“Work on the carving began in 1916, but was delayed for decades until the 1950s when the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum. Segregationists in Georgia hoped the monument would serve as a reminder of White Supremacy, and in 1958 the state of Georgia purchased the mountain for $2 million, paving the way for the sculpture’s completion. It remains there today as a reminder of our state’s brutal history.

” The recent spotlight on Confederate symbols across the south, combined with the growing backlash against the Movement for Black Lives, has made it clear that there is no place for symbols of hate and division on state property. By investing millions of dollars into the park through sponsorships, Coca- Cola is condoning the racism and hatred that these symbols represent to so many people.”

Several members of the community — from those on the local Hip-Hop scene, to Atlanta politicians such as Mayor Kasim Reed and City Councilman Michael Julian Bond, have called for changes to the face of the mountain. The changes range from erasing the current sculpture, to adding images of Atlanta Hip Hop duo, Outkast (and a souped-up Cadillac,) or the likenesses of former president, Jimmy Cater, and slain civil rights leader, Martin Luther King. Jr.

On the surface — aside from the inclusion of Outkast and the tricked-out Caddy — these changes might seem like the right thing to do. After all, as the seemingly popular sentiment goes, why should we, black folks and members of other minority groups, continue to be affronted/assaulted by these obvious symbols of a past that held mostly tyranny and oppression for us? Why shouldn’t we wipe the slate clean?

Why not?  Because we can’t. We can’t change history, we can’t change the past. It is what it is, and it has helped make us — all of us — what we are today. Trying to erase it visually, so we don’t see it, is shortsighted. As painful as it might have been for many of us, it happened. But we are able to debate its affects today, and how we should deal with it going forward, because we have overcome it.

It can only hurt us if we continue to allow it to imprison us, continue to let it define us as victims of the intentions of those who meant us harm. But those intentions that once held the power to kill or imprison or beat or legally rape us, have been reduced to mere symbols. Symbols that we should keep around — in their proper places — so that we, and those who wished us harm, can never forget what happened.  That’s one reason why there are Holocaust museums and solemn observances.

Remember the old saw: Those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it?

Stone Mountain Park — by Georgia law — is a living memorial to the Confederacy and the Confederate dead.  A museum.

A museum is where such symbols should be. Not flying atop the State Capitol or in front of any official government building.

There may be some who look to the mountain and its carvings and long for a return to an era when their forefathers believed that white was right, and white supremacy would rule forever. But — I believe — there are many Georgians and others who enjoy the park and see the mountain and its carvings as mere symbols, a measure of just how much we’ve overcome, how far we’ve advanced, and as encouragement that we can keep on overcoming.

And remember, the boys astride those mighty steeds didn’t win.



Cancer No Match For Jimmy Carter


Carter, A Man For All Seasons: For him, faith is the key

Whoever coined the term “Renaissance Man,” a few hundred years ago, must have known that Jimmy Carter was coming into the world with his toothy smile, heart of gold and Energizer Bunny-like attitude toward public service. For Carter has truly been a man for all seasons.

The list of skills he has mastered is impressive: Carter has been a peanut farmer, a Navy officer with nuclear submarine experience, a diplomat, a furniture maker, a world leader, a Sunday School teacher, U.S. president,  governor of a state, Nobel Peace Prize winner, an accomplished writer, tireless volunteer, driven problem-solver, devoted husband and father, humble servant and a faithful follower of God.

He is a man of such towering faith, integrity and strength that the announcement that he has cancer in his brain and liver is, truthfully, not as distressing as it would be for most other people, especially most other 90-year-olds. Carter is a man who has always worn his faith on his sleeve, unafraid to act out of his beliefs, regardless of the criticism that might come because of it.

He has tried to live an honest and faith-driven life and has succeeded to a degree that many of us can only admire. He first came into my consciousness, on a serious basis, in the very early 1970’s, when I was a young newspaper reporter, and he was first making noise about running for the presidency of the United States of America.

I was assigned to cover an early speech, in which he smiled broadly at his audience, many of whom were African American, and told them he was different, that he would be honest with them as president, that he would never tell them a lie. He recounted being a young child playing baseball with far-more-talented black kids: “I was the backstop,” he said. An audience member sought to correct him: “Don’t you mean the catcher?”  To which Jimmy Cater replied with a broad grin, “No, they made me play behind the catcher. I wasn’t good enough to be the catcher.”

I followed him to Charlotte, N.C., where there was a gathering of Democratic candidates. I had been told that California Gov. Jerry Brown would be there, and I definitely wanted to meet him. In those days, he was rumored to have been dating the singer, Linda Ronstadt, and came off as as being the coolest governor ever.

But listening to all of the candidates, I found myself getting more and more caught up in what Carter was saying. He really was different. He did seem to understand, better than anybody else, the minds of the Southern white man and the Southern black man. A lot of what he was saying rang true. All before, I had joined in the laughter in the newsroom whenever the subject of Jimmy Carter as president came up. But it wasn’t long before I was no longer laughing.

I was in Jesse Jackson’s hotel room at the old Omni Hotel in Atlanta when Jesse Hill and Herman Russell, businessmen who moved mountains in both the black and white communities in Atlanta, came in to talk to Jackson about Carter. Jackson, who was likely already having thoughts about seeking the presidency himself, but was no where near making up his mind, was cool to Carter.

But the two business titans wanted him to think deeply about what a Carter presidency could mean for Black America and see if he — even if he couldn’t ardently support Carter — would, at least, not attack him.

I was assigned by the paper to be a part of the team that was to cover the Democratic Convention in New York City in 1976, but a tangled investigative story involving a high-level Atlanta police official kept me from going. Carter got the nomination and won the presidency.

After his presidency ended and his now-world-renowned Carter Center was up and operational, our paths crossed again. This time, I was around him on a nearly daily basis, watching how he operated and carried himself more closely than I ever had previously. He was already well known for humanitarian and volunteer work in poor countries around the globe, and others where fledgling democracies were trying to spread their wings and take flight. Human rights were always at the top of his agenda, including the right to basic human needs: clean water, health care, housing, food and the right to vote.

If you picked up the newspaper then or turned on the TV news, Jimmy Carter seemed to always be there, fighting malaria or Guinea worm; or settling conflicts or standing up for human rights even in places where the leaders didn’t always relish his company.

But in the early 1990’s, he said he wanted to focus his attention and his efforts closer to home, “in the Third-World country” in his own backyard. He launched The Atlanta Project, saying he would concentrate his efforts mostly on central and southern Atlanta, including Clayton County, areas where poverty, high infant mortality rates and too many babies born out of wedlock were perplexing, quality-of-life issues.

He said he didn’t want this to be a top-down movement, or just  “betterment.” He wanted to empower people in these communities. He wanted to listen to them, to work beside them, to help them help themselves. He started by going out to talk to them, to walk around among them, to hold meetings on their turf. So many of them couldn’t believe that a former president would come to them, sit with them, listen to them, even though he wasn’t stumping for votes; there was no election.

What he was proposing, on such a large scale, had never been done, certainly not by a private individual hoping to harness the power of both government and the public sector. But James Earl Carter, Jr., was — and is — no ordinary person (although he will tell you he certainly is.)

He managed to attract supporters from all over the political and social spectrum, from Hollywood celebrities (Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson,) to current and former government officials, pastors, community advocates (most of whom were skeptical, at first) and even street people, who wanted to put their shoulders to the wheel, too.

I watched him put together staff and volunteers, and drove them hard. He was usually up in the wee hours of the morning sending out emails, reminding folks  what had been the plans for the day, and further thoughts on specific things that needed to be handled. Then, he would go out and run a few miles.

“He still thinks he’s got the full weight and resources of the White House behind him,” one swamped staff member once complained with a smile. “He needs to look around. It’s just us; he needs to slow his roll.”

I watched him go into some of the most dangerous and impoverished neighborhoods in the city and talk to people just as he had talked to heads of state. He did it in places like Eastlake Meadows, a public housing project that was once known as “Little Viet Nam.” No person, no matter how poor, no matter how beaten down by the system, was too small for him.

All the while, he kept going out with Habitat For Humanity and wielding hammers and saws, building houses for those who would not be able to afford one otherwise.

The Atlanta Project survived for a good while, changing and improving as it matured. And while it did not eradicate poverty in Atlanta, it certainly left its mark. It empowered a generation of grassroots leaders who went on to win election to public office. It made the lives of scores of people better and gave them tools they needed to better understand how their government works, how to access it and how to use resources, including the media to help solve problems.

Before Carter, nobody had the courage, commitment and sense of duty to his fellow man and woman to even take on such a humongous effort. Jimmy Cater has lived his life the right way. The treatments for cancer in the brain and the liver will, no doubt, be daunting. But in a battle like that, I put my money on Jimmy Carter. He has faced intimidating foes before. And I believe him when he says he is going to be alright, whatever happens. For he still has the full weight and resources of a power higher than the White House at his disposal.

Jimmy Carter will triumph. For as long as I have known anything about him, he has been a man intent on following God, and that has made all the difference in his life. It has been a great life, an exciting life. And one that mattered.

He will always be a hero of mine — and my president.