Opinion: Stone Mountain carving is heritage … warts and all

The carving at Stone Mountain should stay.

It should be preserved for future generations of Georgians to visit and to marvel at, not out of veneration for the ugly cause that it was intended to glorify, not because of some claimed artistic value, but because the carving has itself become an essential piece of our history.

To use a loaded term, it has become heritage.

Not Confederate heritage, not white nationalist or racists’ heritage. Our heritage. And if you have a hard time accepting that notion, stop to consider the story that the sculpture will still help to tell our descendants 50 or 100 or 500 years from now. That’s the kind of time frame in which such decisions must be debated.

That scene of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson — a scene so important to some that they literally hacked it into the single most prominent feature in the Georgia landscape — stands most obviously as a permanent reminder that white Georgians enslaved black Georgians, that many white Georgians amassed great wealth through the brutal enslavement of their fellow human beings. It reminds us that slavery was so important to them — economically, socially, psychologically and otherwise — that they were willing to destroy the American nation and send their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers off to die by the tens of thousands so that they could keep others in bondage.

It is also a monument to the power of myth, to the lies that people tell themselves and each other to hide the ugliness beneath. It is no accident that it is carved into the mountain where, in 1915, the KKK was reborn. The man who donated his land to the project was head of the national KKK. The original sculptor was a KKK member. The head of the local chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the woman who helped envision the project, wanted it to serve as an explicit monument to the Klan.

“I feel it is due to the Klan which saved us from Negro domination and carpetbag rule, that it be immortalized on Stone Mountain,” she wrote at one point to the original sculptor. “Why not represent a small group of them in their nightly uniform approaching in the distance?”

Future generations will not have a means to adequately appreciate the heroic story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., raised up out of Georgia, without the carving at Stone Mountain to serve as his monumental antipode, to document the enormity of what he and his movement were up against. It is one thing to tell future children of Georgia about the power and influence of the re-established KKK, about the widespread support that this domestic terror group of lynchers and murderers enjoyed; it is another to show them the monument carved in the KKK’s “holy place,” a project officially championed by the state of Georgia, on property owned by the people of Georgia, and completed as late as 1970.

Yes, I agree, that’s a complicated argument. It is easier and simpler and more emotionally gratifying to say it should just be removed, but removal would itself be a form of whitewashing of our history every bit as deceptive as the carving itself. While the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP is right to condemn the carving itself as “a glorification of white supremacy,” that glorification happened.

If it has become an embarrassment, good. Let it serve us always as an embarrassment, and as a reminder of the false stories that we can tell ourselves. Sandblasting it away would be an act of cosmetic surgery on our history, when it still has much to teach us.

When the carving at Stone Mountain was finally completed in 1970, then-President Richard Nixon was invited to speak at its official unveiling. However, that invitation quickly became a cause of controversy. At the time, Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew were engaged in a campaign to squash dissent against the Vietnam War, particularly on college campuses. As Grace Elizabeth Hale told the story in the Georgia Historical Quarterly in 1998, a history professor at Emory University had argued that the invitation was an affront to the memory of Robert E. Lee, who had been a champion of dissent and “did not believe that college students and professors were bums.” An editorial in The Atlanta Constitution agreed, claiming that Lee would never have “dismissed dissenters as ‘effete snobs.'” Stonewall Jackson was himself a college professor before the Civil War, and after the war Lee had served as president of what is now Washington and Lee University. In short, the Stone Mountain carving had become a useful symbol for progressives, a moment captured by Clifford “Baldy” Baldowski, cartoonist for The Atlanta Constitution, in this drawing published May 9, 1970. (The figure at the podium is Agnew; Nixon was a late scratch from the lineup because of the invasion of Cambodia then underway.)

 

 

 

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1572 comments
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Roger Swaine
Roger Swaine

It was only completed in 1972 FFS! How can something with links to the KKK, that was a protest to the Civil Rights movement and the final banning of segregation - and is newer than some of the downtown parking lots - be considered "heritage"? I despair...

Jeff Baker
Jeff Baker

So, we have an ideologically rigid, politically intolerant group wanting to destroy a monument that's not in line with their beliefs? Are we now venturing into Taliban and ISIS territory?

DL Cunningham
DL Cunningham

Where is Nat Turner's Statue? It's history, Right?

Glenda Turpeau Ardoin
Glenda Turpeau Ardoin

Stone Mountain is where they drag blacks to a place atop called the hanging tree. These were carved into that mountain, I believe as a reminder.

Skip McGoldrick
Skip McGoldrick

You people are morons, this stuff falls under the arts and is protected, supreme Court ruled on that with porn. Becuase someone doesn't like something doesn't mean it should be removed. Has nothing to do with Germany, move there if you don't like monuments.

Robert W Peppel
Robert W Peppel

Whatever one may feel about the subject, it is a great work of art. To envision that, lay it out , and then carve it on such a massive scale is truly amazing.

Antonio Grimes
Antonio Grimes

Everyone is missing the point. The point is that some of the people that say that this is about heritage it's really about celebrating and sometimes reenacting a time when slavery, hanging, raping of black women, and the torture of black people was normal and as acceptable as getting up in the morning and going to work. Let's think about that for a minute. It was normal to torture a race just for fun or for them to just know their place - which meant that as a African American you were less than human. The people that are on that mountain fought to not only stay separated from the Union but to continue this barbaric treatment of African Americans. Or did you think that if the South won that African Americans would be free and everything would be peaches and cream? Because after the Civil War things still wasn't better for African Americans so that says that even if the South had won - it would had still been the same and African Americans would not had been free. In 1915, the KKK use to burn crosses on Stone Mountain and celebrate by proclaiming the people that are carved in that mountain approved of their actions and used it to intensify their efforts in race inequality and and intolerance to others no matter who they are or where they're from. No one is trying to erase history be removing it and put it in a museum because it's still will be taught in schools and colleges all over America. Who said it would be erased from history by taking them down or removing them?

Shyne A Lot
Shyne A Lot

Leave it up! Know who your enemies are. Understand the complexities of the "city too busy to hate." Stone Mountain is America. . . Don't be fooled into believing anything else. Don't do future generations the disservice of "fixing" the carving.

Steve Oneill
Steve Oneill

I see it as a reminder of what would of been if they won. So keep it up to remember to not let us get this way again ever.

Robert Kirklin
Robert Kirklin

Why are there more confederate monuments then union monuments?

Jacquline Wingfield Strong
Jacquline Wingfield Strong

I do not feel that monument s and statues should be taken down. They are historical. The civil war was lost by the Confederate. I feel that we should know history for the good and bad. We need to unmask and address the hate group in more vital ways. You cannot erase history.

Jane Kee
Jane Kee

If you are offended, don't go to Stone Mountain.

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Melanie Miller Wall
Melanie Miller Wall

Why is this becoming such a topic now? The carving has been there for more than 50 years. It didn't seem to bother anyone years ago. I remember even as a young child in the 1970-80's seeing african-americans at Stone Mountain. Many times it was a group of family and/or friends or even large family reunions. The history of the association with the KKK and the carving on the mountain didn't seem to stop them from celebrating with a picnic or barbeque. So why the big fuss now?

John Callahan
John Callahan

Here's a thought. Let's keep the monument at Stone Mountain and build a large museum on the grounds where all the confederate monuments being removed can be placed on display. You want to learn about your "Southern heritage"? You can do that at the new Stone Mountain Confederate History Museum where all the proceeds are donated to efforts opposing any group that's sole purpose is sowing hate.

Louise Brown
Louise Brown

I am native Indian. History is history. Leave it alone. You stole our lands. You are all visitors here. Dont like it dont look at it or leave America. Give us our lands back. It is art work. Worry about treating everyone like you want to be treated and STOP all this rioting stuff.

Liam Fisher
Liam Fisher

That KKK members are buried near it as an honor?

Pamela Byrd
Pamela Byrd

They have been wars in the bible, we have had plenty of wars and they have been rumors of Wars. It is a part of all history. Throughout History alot of men and women and even children have died in combat. History whether it be good or bad is History. We all have come a long ways and the journeys we have taken to where we are today. Slavery was a long time ago I don't like it but it wasn't even in my time. But I study it in our History Class. Does it still make it right that it actually happen "Slavery" No. But its a part of our History. I just wished everyone wouldn't get so caught up on this subject. Historically Monuments has been here for centuries throughout each Nation and United States its History. Read it and study how far we have come.

Vickie Johnson
Vickie Johnson

Its like we are just trying to erase all history and think everything will be better!! Dang it has been here before all this fuss started stop the hate people!!

Susan Jacobs
Susan Jacobs

All of it belongs to all of us not the few that the media is hyping up for a bit of news ratings.To stop it all,everybody should quit watching all of the news watch their ratings fall,they will learn their lessons.

Jason Sapp
Jason Sapp

They were traitors at the very least.

Danny Parker
Danny Parker

leave it. it is history. there are many things that i do not like but others might. if you cannot deal with history then by all means go somewhere else or maybe another country? try and remove monuments in another country and see where that gets you. just because you have freedoms in ths USA does not mean yoh have the right to remove, destroy, atler history or the monuments that show reverance or remind you of the past. if you remove what reminds us of the past eventually you will repeat the past. please people stop being so thin skined, offended, and educate yourself on the past and monuments. stop with the knee jerk reactions to stupid people and ths bias media.

Thomas Mcnutt
Thomas Mcnutt

If this is removed we must remove my Rushmore.

Sheila Delores Braxton-Grier
Sheila Delores Braxton-Grier

Ugly..monuments are built to give honor. To me this is the equalivent of a monument of Hitler, Rommel and other Nazis. Yes, ee need to see tge faces of the immoral anti Christ but in a museum not where i have to see and answer a child's question..Why are we honoring such people?

Sheila Delores Braxton-Grier
Sheila Delores Braxton-Grier

If the child was taught true history, which they are not, it would be readily apparent that this country honors white men..

Skip McGoldrick
Skip McGoldrick

This can't be removed, protected as art and the 2nd amendment

Rich Banks
Rich Banks

Enough of the whitewashing or revisionist history. Tear it down OR add union leadership in front of the Confederates, the winning team of the USA against the traitors

Trevor Stricklin
Trevor Stricklin

Go find a mountain up north to carve Union leadership on..

Bill Alston
Bill Alston

Now that makes sense, and would make it a national monument telling the history in context.

Pat Catlin Ewton
Pat Catlin Ewton

Let it alone.how are these people getting by with destroying these sculptures.people need to read up on their history

Hickenbotham Bryan
Hickenbotham Bryan

I'm a gay multiracial millennial, and I have to say that the work carving in stone mountain doesn't bother me. I don't want to see a cultural cleansing of the South. I hate how stubborn the South is to change and progress, and because it doesn't get the message that it has a special obligation to make the future better than the past, it gets overruled by national sentiment that change is inevitable. But, I believe it should be left for future generations to study. It took a talented person to carve those statues.

Ronnie Bulleit
Ronnie Bulleit

My southern heritage is swimming in salt water creeks during the hot summers, going to my grandmother's house after church on Sunday, being schooled in how to behave in public, how to show kindness to those less fortunate. It has nothing to do with a stone carving on the face of a mountain. And in following the training of my southern heritage, if this carving causes any pain or humiliation BRING IT DOWN.

Terry Case
Terry Case

They can get over it. The carvings can stay. Just dont go to Stone Mtn.

Trevor Stricklin
Trevor Stricklin

It's sad you're stupid enough to think your heritage has to do with just you..

Barbara Bowry
Barbara Bowry

God save our country, spare us a fate espoused by Pol Pot!

Frank Griffin
Frank Griffin

Let's get rid of the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Let's wash away every piece of our awful past so we can be doomed to repeat it.

Paul Bolender-Hall
Paul Bolender-Hall

By all means, keep that giant racist graffiti. How else will I be able to shock visitors?

Bill Alston
Bill Alston

On point. I had no idea what m message was the site was attempting to convey when u first saw it. But the comments here make it clear.