The Sons of Confederate Veterans have a valid argument.
As they point out, Georgia law requires that Stone Mountain Park be maintained as “an appropriate and suitable memorial for the Confederacy.” It’s right there in the code, 12-3-192.1 They argue further that installing a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. on the property, as park officials now propose, would be “an intentional act of disrespect toward the stated purpose of the Stone Mountain memorial from its inception.”
(In its own “intentional act of disrespect,” the SCV refers to King as “Michael King,” rather than the name by which he became known to posterity, I guess so we have no misconception about where they’re coming from.)
As the Sons see it, you simply cannot put a memorial to a civil rights leader such as King in a park dedicated by law to the Confederacy. The conflict between the two would be too blatant. It “would be akin to the state flying a Confederate battle flag atop the King Center in Atlanta against the wishes of King supporters,” the SCV argues. “Both would be altogether inappropriate and disrespectful acts, repugnant to Christian people.”
So how to resolve this dilemma? Personally, the solution seems clear: State law must be changed. If we have a state law that forbids the honoring of Georgia’s most famous son in one of its most popular parks, as the SCV claims, then that law is wrong. That law must be repealed.
And the truth is, the law is wrong for more important reasons as well. It’s 2015, more than a century and a half since the Civil War ended. Georgia should not have a law still on the books mandating that we honor a government formed for the primary purpose of keeping millions of our fellow Americans in bondage and perpetual servitude. We are better than that.
I know there are some who to this day will argue some other purpose for the Confederacy. They are simply wrong, and they are wrong not because I and others might say so, but because those who formed the Confederacy say so, unanimously and with vigor. Alexander Stephens, a Georgian who had already been elected to serve as vice president of the Confederacy, explained its purpose in no uncertain terms in an 1861 speech in Savannah.
Stephens told his listeners that the Founding Fathers had believed in their hearts that slavery was wrong. Even slaveholders such as Thomas Jefferson believed that “the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically,” and would eventually be ended.
But the Confederacy was different:
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
We should not have a state park to memorialize such a government. We should not have a law on the books requiring that such a government, founded on such a cornerstone, should be honored in any way. The law must be repealed. And if our state leaders tell us that the time has not yet come for such a repeal, then they tell us and the rest of the world that we are not yet ready to fully divorce ourselves from that attitude.
To be clear, that doesn’t by any means suggest that the sculpture carved into the side of Stone Mountain should be removed or even altered. That should never happen. The flags should come down, the Confederate memorabilia that by law must be sold on park grounds should be removed. But the sculpture can no more be removed from Stone Mountain than the lasting scars of the Civil War can be removed. It is part of our mutual history, a relic of an earlier time that reminds us how far we have come, and when necessary how far we have yet to go. It is important to all Georgians, of all races, that it be preserved. It is heritage.
But the law must go, and soon. And I appreciate the public service performed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in making that point so clear.