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.