Michael Thurmond wants Stone Mountain as a symbol of DeKalb unity — if its history can be fixed

As a matter of ceremony, Michael Thurmond will be sworn in as the new CEO of DeKalb County government on Friday afternoon.

By law, he has actually held the position since New Year’s Day. In fact, Thurmond has already endured a weather scare – just a little dusting last week – and his first board meeting with commissioners.

Friday’s event will allow him to lay out his priorities and expound on the logo that appears on his celebratory website with the phrase, “New Day for DeKalb.”newdaylogo

The image shows a sun rising behind a blue profile of the walkable side of Stone Mountain.

Thurmond, a former state labor commissioner and DeKalb school superintendent, was elected on a promise to unite northern and white DeKalb with southern and black DeKalb. For him, Stone Mountain is where that effort starts.

“I’m going to emphasize Stone Mountain as a major and significant attraction, a beautiful natural resource,” Thurmond said in an interview. “Not just a state property, but a county symbol as well.”

He would like to make the granite mound a rallying point for economic development in a county that currently struggles to generate jobs.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond. AJC file

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond. AJC file

The problem: Stone Mountain may be the best-known geographic feature in all of Georgia, but because of its Confederate identity, it has become the most difficult state asset to successfully market.

The solution: “We have to create a narrative that extricates us from this conundrum of history that we’re in,” Thurmond said. The Lost Cause of the 19th century must be reconciled with what has followed.

We have been here before. Eighteen months ago, in the days after Dylan Roof massacred nine members of a black church in Charleston, S.C., the mountain and its massive carving became a focal point for debate over Confederate symbolism.

The result was a pair of efforts not to remove Confederate iconography, but to add to.

Bill Stephens, the CEO of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, proposed the erection of a bell tower atop the mountain, to mark its mention in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

When that idea stalled, the effort shifted to the creation of a museum that would detail the role African-Americans played in the Civil War — mostly as enslaved logistic support on the Southern side, and soldiers on federal side. That initiative, too, has so far come to naught.

Thurmond would revive the conversation. In addition to a long career in politics, the DeKalb CEO is also an amateur historian who believes that we are the stories that we tell ourselves. Incomplete or inaccurate history, he argues, leaves its mark on the generations that follow.

“We don’t connect current issues with what, unfortunately, is a very disturbing part of the history of our county. Which is Stone Mountain as the birthplace of the modern Klan,” Thurmond said.

That was in the early 20th century. But the thing about history is that it doesn’t tend to stop. Everyone knows the tale of how Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in 1960 at a demonstration in Atlanta. “But he had a pending case in DeKalb for driving with an Alabama driver’s license. It was a DeKalb County judge who sentenced him to four months of hard labor [at Reidsville State Prison],” Thurmond said.

“So when Dr. King spoke about freedom ringing from Stone Mountain, he was speaking about it metaphorically, but he also had that experience,” he said. “In many ways it’s recent history. And we have to come to grips with that,” he said. “And in many ways, we have to make peace with it — before we can really embrace all the opportunities that now exist for DeKalb in the early part of the 21st century.”

Again, Thurmond is about adding history to the park, not obliterating it. “That carving is nothing to be ashamed of, but we need to put it in the proper context — the meaning and significance,” Thurmond said.

“I live in the shadow of Stone Mountain. I see it every day. So I speak in a more personal way than some people might. It’s a part of my every day existence.”

Curiously, our conversation happened on Tuesday, the same day that a federal jury in South Carolina sentenced Dylan Roof to death for those church murders. His name did not come up.

This isn’t about cultural retaliation. Thurmond is about piecing a broken DeKalb back together. And if he can successfully recast the Stone Mountain discussion in economic terms, he may be doing everyone a favor.

Details on how Thurmond intends to accomplish that will have to wait until Friday. He has a bully pulpit, but whatever he attempts, the new CEO will need Republican help — specifically, northern DeKalb help. And certainly some assistance from certain quarters in the state Capitol as well.

For instance: Perhaps the board of directors of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association shouldn’t be all white. Minorities have been appointed to it before. And an African-American member or two might offer some interesting perspectives on the stories we tell ourselves.

Audio: MLK delivers early version of “Dream” speech.

 

Reader Comments 0

43 comments
Billy Kobs
Billy Kobs

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot leave the damn thing. Don't like don't go there. We must preserve our history if it's good or if it's bad. In that way we can understand what worked and what didn't. I'm tired of this BS. I taught high school history for 20 years and never skipped any part because students need to know the truth either good and especially the bad!!!

Judy Canup
Judy Canup

Leave Stone Mountain alone it's a historical place quit trying to destroy everything related to Confederate history. People not going up north trying to destroy all of the northern monuments..... just let it be Let's Get It Together live in harmony and move on

Kevin Kitchen
Kevin Kitchen

When is the south going to apologize for slavery, racism and the Civil War? ? That's what I want to know.

Kevin Kitchen
Kevin Kitchen

It's too bad we can't remove the 3 treasonous Klansmen off the mountain without making it look like hell. Really they don't belong up there. If anybody belongs up there, the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr belongs up there.

Clint Pittman
Clint Pittman

It's art. Go to the high museum of art or the bodies exposition. You'll find way more things that are offensive and controversial there.

Don Knight Sr.
Don Knight Sr.

Stop changing and altering EVERYTHING that's HISTORY just because a few complain. Recompense the Native American Indian then voice your complaints.

Connie White
Connie White

Nothing is wrong with stone mountain carving, what's wrong is these students on university campuses unable to answer questions about history! Ignorance is just rampant in this country feeling they should dictate to the rest is unacceptable.

Rod Miller
Rod Miller

State property - not to be decided by DeKalb County

Jim Bridwell
Jim Bridwell

History can't be rewritten. Live with it and go on

Joanne Ward Lutes
Joanne Ward Lutes

You let that piece of history alone. What's the matter with people?

Vicky Smith
Vicky Smith

Max Gregory Anderson Who said there was nothing to be ashamed of? I said shameful! If you are going to debate in a public forum at least have the courtesy to read the other sides opinion!

Nolan Teter
Nolan Teter

Maybe they could add some slaves getting trampled under the hooves of those horses being ridden by those Giants of the Confederacy. You know, for context.

Barry Leo Brown
Barry Leo Brown

I like Michael Thurmond....He has an appreciation and understanding for history and he understands the Stalinist push to wipe out history for the farce that it is.

Larry Mcwhorter
Larry Mcwhorter

Yes you want to change things that don't need changing,to destroy the truth and follow a lie

Wayne Blythe
Wayne Blythe

Its history was Georgia protest to equal rights amendment but it should stay I kinda like it

Max Gregory Anderson
Max Gregory Anderson

Nothing to be ashamed of? That is the problem! Genocide, slavery, torture, lynching, and racism has NO proper context. Owning the history and repentance is required for unity and moving forward. White washing and denial is unacceptable!

Max Gregory Anderson
Max Gregory Anderson

Let's stop the BS. The United States Government participated, profited perpetuated and enslaved black people and later the Confederate States of America followed suit. After emancipation the USA Morphed the slavery policy to a new firm of slavery call contract leasing black codes and segregation. To honor that horrible and terrible legacy State of Georgia labeled an innocent beautiful Granite mountain honoring the evil legacy of the Confederacy and double down on the evilness by memorializing three racist terrorists who attempted to overthrow the United States. Anything short of doing away with this monstrosity of evil is shameful.

Max Gregory Anderson
Max Gregory Anderson

Knowing the history and memorializing and honoring it are different things

John Tinsley
John Tinsley

Glad you said that because blacks will have to own up to what they did to their own people. History is a harsh fact.

Greg Pearson
Greg Pearson

True, but none of that applies to stone mountain or confederate history as a whole.

Michael Ferrari
Michael Ferrari

What do you mean fix its history? Do mean revising it to fit your freaking liberal narrative? Answer is no. History is history regardless of how you trolls feel about it. So get over it. We are done with your social engineering experiment.

Zain Malik
Zain Malik

Blast the carving off and replace it with Grant, Lincoln, and Sherman. :D

Zain Malik
Zain Malik

It was a war. Everyone murdered, including the people on Stone Mountain right now, but those people on the mountain have the added crimes of slavery and defending it.

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

Zain Malik Slavery at the time was legal.

Ryan Long
Ryan Long

Or make your own damn statue. How about that. If you dont like the carvings don't look.

Vicky Smith
Vicky Smith

Leave Stone mountain alone! Teach the history,even if it's shameful, Don't sanitize it or Glorify it! Tell the truth, there is nothing glorious about that War !!

Max Gregory Anderson
Max Gregory Anderson

Monuments are for glorious and honorable things . There's no Monument for Nazis in Germany

Nelms Graham
Nelms Graham

Max Gregory Anderson This is not Germany. It was dedicated to men who were glorious and honorable.

Vicky Smith
Vicky Smith

It can be used as a teaching tool, the past can't be erased but must be learned from.

Monte Poitevint
Monte Poitevint

Leave it alone. It's a monument, for crying out loud. We don't need any "fixed" history. History is done and unchangeable. If someone needs something to illustrate the current leftwing freak show, they can find another site.

Greg Pearson
Greg Pearson

Spoken like a true racist bigot mr. Gibson

Randy Allen
Randy Allen

Real history needs to be taught in the schools. What I've learned about history since being out has been mind blowing. What the schools teach now is watered down, or just distorted.

Lantz West
Lantz West

Angela O'Cobtbhaigh Coffey that was just Democrat propaganda considering it was the Democrats who created the KKK to scare minorities and stop them from voting. Tactic kind of sounds familiar nowadays also.

Michael Ferrari
Michael Ferrari

It is nothing more than the liberals trying to implement their social engineering experiment to dumb down our children thus making it easier to control the population and advance their socialist/communist agenda. Read Rules for Radicals by Saul Alynski and it becomes abundantly evident this is exactly what they are doing and have made great progress to that end. Just look at the ignorant, public educated, lacking any common sense minions coming out of the schools these days...

Kathy Jo Richey Marnell
Kathy Jo Richey Marnell

Angela O'Cobtbhaigh Coffey I found your post very interesting .I know of instances when the KKK did visit child molesters and wife beaters-they were all white men. One event occurred in the county of my birth and I knew the family. My only memory is of cross burnings on the courthouse square- late 40s-

Greg Gibson
Greg Gibson

Angela O'Cobtbhaigh Coffey that mean you are blind. We never said "All" white people where bad. If you thought like that then that's you. But down south that flag is a racist piece of cloth whether you like it or not. I'm sure if you look at history you can see a few whites marching with blacks.

Greg Pearson
Greg Pearson

You sir are wrong. In the south educated individuals support the Confederate flag, it's has no racist connotations unless of course you Also think the u.s. flag is a "racist piece of cloth" as NOTHING can be said about the Confederate flag that would not also apply to the u.s. flag. If you actually look at history you can see LOTS of blacks supporting the Confederate flag.