A Confederate Park still making history

Carving

“Why would they build a monument to three losers?” asked my northern-born relative after a trip to Stone Mountain Park many years ago. Jefferson Davis. Robert E. Lee. Stonewall Jackson. Yep. You can look it up. Definitely lost.
My answer to my relative – to better remember history. The winners and the losers.

Finishing a run at Stone Mountain Park
Finishing a run at Stone Mountain Park

Most Saturday mornings you can find me and/or my wife enjoying the beauty that is Stone Mountain Park. I’ve written before about how it really is one of our forgotten jewels, peaceful and plain spoken. No Ferris wheels or roller coasters. Life slows down when you pass through the gates. If it doesn’t, one of the Park’s finest will be happy to pull you over and point out the speed limit signs.
Now this state park has hit a far more expensive form of radar – public opinion.

Confederate Battle Flag

When South Carolina removed the Confederate Battle Flag from the Statehouse grounds, other state’s rights symbols were already under reconsideration. I figured the Confederate Memorial Carving would eventually make it to the top of someone’s list. It’s Number One with a bullet right now.

The Atlanta NAACP wants to sandblast off the carving. The Atlanta City Council suggests leaving it there, but adding other Georgians to the carving such as Jimmy Carter or Martin Luther King, Jr. They’ve asked Governor Nathan Deal to study the idea.

Sandblasting anything seems terribly wrong, too much like the Taliban blowing up centuries-old religious art it finds offensive. I have no opinion on the City Council idea. In a free society, we ought to be able to talk freely about symbols on taxpayer-owned land.
I do believe that Stone Mountain Park has already served a remarkable purpose. Go see for yourself one day.

When we moved to Georgia in 1967, my parents took us to the Park. The carving consisted of only Robert E. Lee’s head. Funding had run out decades ago. The carving was finally finished in 1972, two years before Atlanta would elect its first black mayor.

Stone Mountain Park in 1929. Starting over with new sculptor.
Stone Mountain Park in 1929. Starting over with new sculptor.

Unlike the controversy surrounding various state flags and the Confederate Battle Flag symbol, this carving wasn’t conceived in the 1950s or 1960s as a reaction to Brown vs. Board of Education. It had been underway since before World War I. Original sculptor Gutzon Borglum (who would later carve Mount Rushmore) envisioned a whole “army of thousands” trailing away from the central figures of the carving. Imagine that animation in the laser show today.

Atlanta Constitution reports in 1915 KKK meeting on top of Stone Mountain.
Atlanta Constitution reports in 1915 KKK meeting on top of Stone Mountain.

True, Stone Mountain was once the sight of Ku Klux Klan rallies and cross burnings. And Brown vs. BOE likely prompted the funding to get the carving finished once and for all. But over time, something remarkable has happened at the Park. Something historic. Fitting even.

A place that remembers the heroes of the Confederacy, a place that was once the site of Klan meetings, a place that flies the Confederate Battle Flag among many others, is now a popular spot for African Americans.
The demographics in South DeKalb have played a role. But I think of it more like one of the dreams Dr. King didn’t get a chance to include – “one day black and white Georgians will jog together in a place once owned by a white supremacist. I have a dream…”

Waiting for the park to open on a day I should be sleeping in.
Waiting for the park to open on a day I should be sleeping in.

We’ve made so many friends during our Saturday mornings at the park. Over the years, not one has mentioned their discomfort with the carving. No one has urged me to do a story about the Battle Flag. Perhaps someone will now. Or perhaps it’s just not important to the people who see the park as so much more.

Critics say the Confederate Battle Flag belongs in a museum. Stone Mountain Park is a giant 3200-acre museum, complete with an Antebellum home and slave quarters. Walk the trails. Walk to the top of the mountain. Look around. It’s a battleground transformed.

Old Macon train station
Old Macon train station

My first TV job was in Macon. The old train station has “Colored Waiting Room” carved into the granite. I used to take my Northern relatives by there to understand our state, warts and all. “They really treated black people like that?” they would ask. Yes, I said. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Yes. Hard to believe.

I moved away in 1983. Later, someone suggested sandblasting off “Colored Waiting Room.” I’m told local civil rights leaders said no. Don’t touch it.

After all, it’s our history.

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13 thoughts on “A Confederate Park still making history

  1. Will the NAACP be footing the entire bill for changing or obliterating this piece of history? And…if you don’t like the southern monuments, don’t go there…just move to somewhere quieter, up North of the Mason Dixon perhaps?

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  2. It would break my heart to see it gone..how can we deny that HISTORY Happened. Sad we lost but do we have to remove any mention any part of that era????? so many things have happened lately that it seems like one can’t even voice an opinion without being called a racist or bigot… This world is turning upside now…. So very sad.

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  3. The easiest thing to do is to make this statement: if you don’t like living in the south and you don’t like our heritage, and our ancestry, get the hell out!!!!

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  4. personally I consider the attack on the monument at Stone Mountain…a hate crime lead by NAACP….seriously why are that so focused on that but I haven’t heard anything about them supporting the people in Friendship Apartments…that seems to me like an issue they should be working on. I personally plan on being among any gathering of people protesting their protest of the monument. We all should be standing together concerning major issues happening at Washington D.C. or even state and county government issues…that concern every American. Its time we get back to enjoying our individual rights…and most important respecting the rights of others. Time to stop all everything offending everyone…and accepting responsibility for our actions. If you are doing something illegal or harmful to another person and you get shot by the police (black or white or anything in between) its time to stop finding someone else to blame and accept the fact that someone you knew and loved made some bad choices. Taking down a flag or sandblasting a monument is not gonna stop hate from hating.

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    1. The Atlanta NAACP as well as the Atlanta City Council could care less about what Dr. King envisioned just so long as they can rally behind their own self serving publicity seeking racist agenda!!!!! People getting along with each other is not in their best interest, as it doesn’t involve controversy or turmoil!!!
      What a bunch of hypocrites!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  5. You can’t rewrite history. If we had not had the Civil War the slaves might not have been freed. Lets us remember all of our ancestors. Next they will probably want the destroy the Cyclorama.

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    1. White people re write history all the time. Let’s not forget how they make movies portraying Egyptians and Cleopatra as white when clearly those were ppl with melanin . Get out your feelings. Those 3 stooges carved on stone mountain were losers who lost the war nothing to celebrate. Some history isn’t good history those men were apart of fighting against blacks gaining civil rights. Nothing good about that. Why would anyone not want someone to be able to live as they please because their skin color is different. That’s pure hatred and racism. Bye

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  6. What’s left out of this piece, and most others about the monument and the accompanying laser show, is that the “history” in the laser show is more than a bit inaccurate. As the figure of Lee comes to life, he rides through the carnage brought on by the war, noting the dead and dying on both sides. At that point he lays down his arms.

    Lee surrendered, folks. The south was beaten. This revisionist history that a war for “states rights” wasn’t about slavery, or was about more than slavery, is just wrong and continues to justify ignorance and intolerance.

    Having said all of that, I say leave it up, just change the laser show to depict Lee with a white flag, which is much closer to what actually happened.

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  7. I am so proud of you Randy one person from a news group will say what’s on his hart not ratings.As you I love going every chance I get and to see all the happy faces black and white till the the past few weeks. We all need to just get along

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  8. Its amazing how the educational system in this country has successfully brainwashed people who classify themselves as white on the virtuosity of white supremacy and skewered the perspectives of seemingly good people by devaluing the contributions, lives and humanity of African Americans. If this took place in Germany and there was a statue of Hitler and/or a swastika in any public area, there would be a public outcry of monumental proportions, mostly from Jews and white Americans, to remove/destroy it and no one would question the morality or where that idea came from. Any claims of historical significance voiced from defenders of the failed Nazi regime, like the Confederate struggle would be quickly and vehemently denounced.

    But when it comes to the victims of this white supremacist system, the benefactors of that system don’t hesitate to defend their symbols that are just as disgusting. But, since the group of people here in America that this system has never demonstrated that it recognizes as human beings equal to the dominant society at any point in the past or present, people who classify themselves as white are up in arms to defend their “history.” That fits right in with the fact that German/Nazi prisoners were treated better than African American Officers during their reign of terror. And the fact that Hitler himself considered the Nazi movement as a “Christian Movement”, just as the KKK does. There are even MORE ties to Nazi Germany and America, but the point is clear: Its very interesting how this country can defend evil so easily since they’ve never had to be held accountable for any of it. So, this country teaches the masses that, in this system, the only lives and concerns of value are the values of the dominant, white supremacist society and there is no evil that this society is bound to acknowledge or respect.

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  9. No one living today was alive during the civil war and has had no direct involvement in it. Most had no direct involvement in the carving, the decisions if, how, when previous to the carving. Let’s leave history as is and move along to today’s issues.

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