When I was in middle school, my mother would let me buy snacks while she filled her gas tank. One day, we stopped by a Stone Mountain gas station to get snacks as usual. As I was purchasing my bag of chips, I heard a boy get called the N-word by a white man for blocking the entrance to the convenience store. I was shocked and outraged, but the older patrons did nothing as the boy’s eyes welled with tears. The cashier who was helping me cringed, and looked at me with a dull pain in her eyes.
I was thirteen when this happened and this was one of my first realizations that I lived in a city with a past of white supremacy. I’ve lived in Stone Mountain for more than six years now. I have had many encounters with white supremacists and racists, and they still surprise me.
Stone Mountain’s Ugly Past
To give a brief history on Stone Mountain is almost impossible but I definitely will try. The Civil War era Confederacy is a symbol of racism, inequality and treason as these Southerners were attempting to leave the union because they wanted to continue owning slaves. The Confederacy was all for slavery so it’s a bit ironic in a little sad that the area of Stone Mountain Village is filled with 73% Black residents.
The centerpiece of Stone Mountain is a carving of Civil War generals Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The park hosts weekly laser shows that glorify and praise these Confederate leaders, ironically, praising them as “true” Americans. What’s most insulting about this laser show is that its operators have the audacity to project images of Martin Luther King Jr. and excerpts from his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” To apologize for the mockery they’ve made of Dr. King’s speech, the park organizers should acknowledge the “Let Freedom Ring” section of the speech, as it calls out the mountain’s racially charged past.
Defacing An Indiginous Ceremonial Mountain
Also problematic is the fact that Stone Mountain was stolen from The Creek and Cherokee indigenous tribes who lived in the area, and was “purchased” by the Venable family in 1887. The park has decided to pay “tribute” to natives by having a festival every year, charging $15 for attendance. The Indian Pow-Wow Festival does not provide any historical context or information about how/why the land was taken from indiginous tribes. Nothing has been done to respect or preserve any remnants of their presence on the mountain. After living in this area for 16 years, why am I only now finding out about the Native American origins of this mountain?
The History of the Carving
The idea of the confederate memorial was first conceptualized by Mrs. Helen Plane and Gutzon Borglum during the mountain’s pre-carving history. The actual carving of the mountain began in June, 1923. Due to a lack of funding, the carving was stalled, then resumed when the mountain was purchased by The State of Georgia in 1958. Construction was resumed in 1963, uncoincidentally during the height of the Civil Rights movement and completed in 1972, defacing the once holy mountain by honoring Confederate leaders.
The KKK and Stone Mountain
This memorial made the area surrounding Stone Mountain welcoming to white supremacists and later in 1915, became the symbolic birthplace of the rejuvenated modern Ku Klux Klan. With the clear racial overtones of the mountain and the park’s history, Stone Mountain Park can be seen as sympathetic to white supremacists and Confederate supporters. In the past the top of the mountain has played host to Klan rallies, where robed and hooded members would erect crosses and burn them on top of the mountain, bringing terror to the black residents who surrounded the area. Much of the fundraising for the carving was done by white supremacists and Klansmen.
The June 22, 2020 edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted former MLK aide and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young stating the Confederate memorial “ought to be left in place.” I have great respect for Young as he fought for many of the rights I have today. However, I will respectfully disagree. The memorial was completed 107 years after the confederacy lost the Civil War. This monument is not a relic from history, this is not history through context. It is a monument glorifying the confederacy in an attempt to intimidate activists that fought during the Civil Rights Movement.
As a person of color who lives in the City of Stone Mountain, I am constantly faced with the image of Confederate soldiers on the side of the mountain. In 1928, early work on the mountain carving was blasted off and replaced, so it’s definitely possible to make some changes.
What Should Replace The Carving?
While writing this piece, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to ask people in my community about what they thought should replace the Confederate memorial. Here’s what they said:
“Martin Luther King Jr.” – Imani Willams, Arabia Mountain High Student
“Outkast” – Anonymous
“Angela Davis, Maya Angelou, and Madam C.J. Walker” – Zariah Taylor
“Famous African-American slaves” – Winter Mitchell
“Influential Native American figures” – Jabari Amoeba
Living in the Shadow of a Confederate Memorial
When I first learned about the aspect of the mountain’s history, I was shocked and disappointed as Stone Mountain was, and continues to be, a beautiful landmark that I admired as a child. Though I still admire the beauty of the mountain, I cannot help but be appalled by its history.
I have been going to Stone Mountain park consistently ever since i was a child, whether it was for exercise, driving lessons, Snow Mountain at Christmas time, or the laser shows. As I’ve learned more about the twisted history of the mountain I am disturbed that the mountain’s overseers have not made the decision to destroy the Confederate carving. People from all over the world come to visit the park and are met with a painful image. I am not only outraged, but sadded and exhausted by the image.
The BLM Protests
This summer, protests have been organized all around America as a result of the murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd. Because of Stone Mountain’s history, multiple protests have marched through America’s largest Confederate Memorial, the latest taking place on June 27 where protestors specifically called for the removal of the carving. These protests, filled with all kinds of social justice and equality groups, are trying to raise awareness of the systemic racism and inequality in America.
For me, seeing these protests go through Stone Mountain is incredible.
After living in this city for many years and seeing the kind of racism that comes out of it, I am proud that the Black Lives Matter marches are coming through here. It means the world to me. I’ve always been conflicted about living in this area. At times, living here felt as though I was complacent with the city’s past.
The protests have given me the hope and confidence that things will change in my city, and that the Confederate carving will be taken down. This city and its people are beautiful and I am proud to see several black owned businesses created over the years.
I do not plan to give up on my city any time soon, and I will continue to fight until the carving is gone.
Here are some ways for you to help initiate change:
Petitions to sign for #BlackLivesMatter
- Change or Remove Stone Mountain Confederate Carving
- CLICK TO TWEET asking for justice for Breonna Taylor
- Defund the Police
- Support orgs fighting for racial justice
- Make Juneteenth a National Holiday
Donate to the National Bail fund!
Mental Health Resources
- Center for Family and Maternal Wellness
- Liberation Meditation
- Mental Health Resources For The Black Community
- Sista Afya