Stone Mountain and the bargaining behind Southern history

An empty pedestal remains where a statue of Roger B. Taney, former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and majority author of the Dred Scott decision, once was before city workers removed the statue on Wednesday in Baltimore, Md. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On July 9, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read aloud on the streets of New York for the first time.

The giddy soldiers and citizenry responded by marching to a Manhattan park and pulling down a gilded, lead statue of King George III on horseback.

There are two lessons here. First, we Americans have always edited the history erected in our public spaces. Secondly, one must be very careful when one does so.

For no matter what Karl Marx or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says, neither history nor progress travel in a straight line. The British quickly chased George Washington and his boys out of town and occupied New York for the duration.

One imagines that the deposed statue made for an awkward topic at cocktail parties.

On Tuesday morning, in a Twitter barrage that reminded us of someone else, state Rep. Stacey Abrams of Atlanta, a Democratic candidate for governor, declared that the time had come to erase the Confederate carving of Robert E. Lee, Jeff Davis and Stonewall Jackson from Stone Mountain.

“We must never celebrate those who defended slavery and tried to destroy the Union,” she tweeted.

Despite the fatal melee in Charlottesville, her demand caught most Georgia Democrats off guard. Older ones probably winced more than younger ones.

Abram’s history was a bit off. The granite bas relief, an object of fits and starts, wasn’t carved in 1915, but in the period from the late ‘50s until 1972, when it was declared complete. Yet the mountain was indeed the birthplace of the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan at the turn of the 20th century. It is now a Confederate memorial in an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood.

History buffs love their field because it isn’t paleontology. History isn’t a fossil. It’s a living thing that changes according to when it’s told, who tells it, and who’s listening. Admittedly, this can confuse a Gwinnett County magistrate here and there.

A 19th century engraving by John C. McRae of the pulling down of a statue of King George III in 1776.

But the ever-changing nature of history is precisely what requires a certain amount of diplomacy. Especially in the South, the history we erect in public spaces shifts according to geography and political power.

For instance, this fall, the Atlanta History Center will reveal a restored Cyclorama, a mural-in-the-round that features the Battle of Atlanta. Last week, history center CEO Sheffield Hale assured Buckhead business leaders that the 19th century painting won’t be the Confederate shrine that it was when first installed in Grant Park in the 1920s.

“The North will win the battle each and every time,” Hale said.

More recently, history has become something to be negotiated. Abrams understands this bargaining. She has been a part of it. In 2015, in the aftermath of the massacre of nine church-goers in Charleston, S.C., by a young racist, state Rep. LaDawn Jones, D-Atlanta, wanted legislation to address the Confederate symbolism at Stone Mountain. She approached Abrams, then House minority leader, for support.

Abrams demurred. At the time, Abrams was working with state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Atlanta, and Gov. Nathan Deal on the erection of a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the grounds of the state Capitol. A dedication ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 28.

Abrams probably won’t tell you that, in talks with a Republican governor who had his own bandwidth limitations, an MLK statue and a revamping of Stone Mountain policy were mutually exclusive — and that one had to be sacrificed to the other. I just did.

Even so, in a state that’s edging closer and closer to racial parity, the MLK statue is an example of the direction that negotiations over history are proceeding: Addition rather than subtraction.

That’s the strategy that DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, an amateur historian, has counseled in regard to Stone Mountain. Which is a state park contained entirely within his county, so there’s a certain amount of ownership there.

It’s also a line that Abram’s Democratic rival, state Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna, has quickly adopted.

Evans said she supported legislation to require the agency overseeing Stone Mountain Park “to maintain an appropriate, inclusive, and historically accurate memorial to the Civil War—not the Confederacy.” And communities should be allowed to determine what their own history is, Evans said.

There’s another reason that older Democrats may be more skeptical of Abrams’ suggestion that the carving on Stone Mountain be sandblasted.

On Wednesday, fellow civil rights veterans Andrew Young and C.T. Vivian were at Paschal’s restaurant to endorse Ceasar Mitchell, the Atlanta City Council president, in this fall’s race for mayor.

Young was asked if he condoned the removal of Confederate statues – even if local laws forbade it. His answer may have surprised some. And while not directed at Abrams, it could apply.

“I think it’s too costly to refight the Civil War. We have paid too great a price in trying to bring people together,” Young said. “I personally feel that we made a mistake in fighting over the Confederate flag here in Georgia. Or that that was an answer to the problem of the death of nine people – to take down the Confederate flag in South Carolina.”

Specifically, Young was speaking of Gov. Roy Barnes’ 2001 decision to pull down the 1956 state flag that prominently featured the Confederate battle emblem. The move was a primary reason Barnes lost his bid for re-election. The issue split the state Democratic party, and ushered in the current season of Republican rule.

“It cost us $14.9 billion and 70,000 jobs that would have gone with the Affordable Care Act (via Medicaid expansion) – which we probably would have had if we hadn’t been fighting over a flag,” Young said. “I am always interested in substance over symbols. If the truth be known, we’ve had as much agony – but also glory, under the United States flag. That flew over segregated America. It flew over slavery.”

In Grant Park, where the Cyclorama once was, there is a street with the name of Confederate Avenue. A petition has been submitted to Mayor Kasim Reed asking that the name be changed.

I asked Mitchell, who would replace Reed, for his position. “It’s going to be a community conversation among people who live and own property on that street, and I’m willing to entertain that,” Mitchell said.

But such decisions aren’t something that should be made on the street, he allowed. “I would just caution us, as a city – you can‘t replace an angry, evil mob with what we believe is a righteous mob,” Mitchell said. “We have a complicated history as a country, in the South and certainly in Atlanta. There’s so much good and bad intertwined and tangled together. We need to be able to untangle the good and the bad, get rid of the bad, and make it part of the past.”

In other words, rewrite the history of others as you would have yours rewritten. Because eventually, someone will.

RELATED

The Georgia law that protects Stone Mountain, other Confederate monuments

There are hundreds of Confederate monuments, not just in the South

Gwinnett judge suspended after posts about Confederate monuments

Opinion: Stone Mountain carving is heritage … warts and all

Abrams calls for removal of Confederate faces off Stone Mountain

Reader Comments 6

253 comments
Keith Matthews
Keith Matthews

The cost of removing it could sure be used elsewhere with a better outcome. Does Georgia really have that kind of money to throw away just to pacify the offended?

Wanda Green
Wanda Green

They can move.why did they move to this neighborhood if it offends them?

Milena Lucia Calderon Ugwuezi
Milena Lucia Calderon Ugwuezi

The World is coming to its end. We are before the constant threatening of a nuclear disaster, people is dying horribly everywhere, children are abused in unimaginable ways, animals are tortured, killed, neglected as well, domestic violence...rent is getting expensive and landlord are tyrans....meanwhile people worried about a cement statue, a monument....let's remove some sensitivity and be more constructive.

Lee VonderHaar
Lee VonderHaar

What countries in Africa do all these Africans come from?

Cheryl Plato
Cheryl Plato

"Tear it down scream" the isis like animals, then tear down every monument to Washington, Jefferson, and all our founding fathers. Even then these savage buffoons will not be satisfied.

Rich Sauniere
Rich Sauniere

Black people should immediately stop paying to visit that Confederate "Museum".

Dennis Aultman
Dennis Aultman

What ever! Stone Mountain is a tourist attraction . Thankfully the General Assembly of Ga. made a law to protect the monument.

Terry Lada
Terry Lada

We need to burn the history books too. We need to eliminate any references that there were slaves in America.

Teresa Dillard
Teresa Dillard

They won't be happy till they burn the damn neighborhood down

Mary H. Landry
Mary H. Landry

People are offended because they have been told to be offended. The mountain is operated by a private company. If people do like the mountain, they don't have to go see it. Those of us that enjoy the park can continue to go. #Freedom Break your chains of hate and release yourself from it. If someone's life is so terrible because of a carving or a statue, or any man made object, what can anyone really do to make that person happy? This isn't about objects or statues, or carvings. They were not outraged until now, not until someone told them to be. Think for yourselves. What exactly has that object done to you and why did you let it? #Bestronger

Harry David Poole II
Harry David Poole II

Weird you would think one group wouldnt want to live there if it offended them so much...instead they have flocked to stone mountain in droves....soooooo...

Thomas R. McFarland
Thomas R. McFarland

Let's have another carving done honoring African-American figures prominent in the events leading up to , during, and after the Civil War.

Anita Nix Brackett
Anita Nix Brackett

You mean the black people settled in the shadow of something they deem so offensive and unacceptable. Mmmmm

Chad Donya Jackson Bishop
Chad Donya Jackson Bishop

If you erase The bad you erase the good and sacrifices those who fought for and won.. You can't tell part of a story with telling all.

Bob Ciminel
Bob Ciminel

Just carve Obama's image on Stone Mountain and Mt. Rushmore and all this will go away.

David Royal
David Royal

His image would cause the mountains to crumble into pieces...

Raymond Stewart
Raymond Stewart

What about six flags over GA?? There are subliminal signs of the deep south ie monster plantation... ever seen the building and what it actually looks like?? Guess that's next now that u mentioned it..

Marvin Simpkins
Marvin Simpkins

So who told them to move there? Its also not government land so shut up already.

Jon Crumbley
Jon Crumbley

Well the AA community is still on the plantation of welfare, public housing and prison. Thanks to the not so great society initiative created by LBJ

Jon Crumbley
Jon Crumbley

No. I blame the democrat party for keeping minorities in poverty as a way to continue to buy their vote.

Frank Sutton
Frank Sutton

What about all the white people on welfare?

Jon Crumbley
Jon Crumbley

The primary goal of it was to break up the AA nuclear family.

Frank Sutton
Frank Sutton

So rather than confront the systematic racism, you blame the victims?

Frank Sutton
Frank Sutton

Why do you ignore the Southern strategy that came after the dixiecrats decline?

Jon Crumbley
Jon Crumbley

I don't. The current situation is Jim Crow light. It's all democrats man.

Frank Sutton
Frank Sutton

How would you know. You seem kinda confusing comparing healthcare to jim crow.

John Smith
John Smith

American Antiquities Act of 1906 16 USC 431-433 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court. Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States. Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which the may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulation as they may prescribe: Provided, That the examinations, excavations, and gatherings are undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects, and that the gatherings shall be made for permanent preservation in public museums. Sec. 4. That the Secretaries of the Departments aforesaid shall make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act.

Bob Frank
Bob Frank

THE LEFT THINKS AMERCIIA SHOULD BOW DOWN TO THEM. YOU MUST MEAN BLACK LIVES . THEY NEIGHORHOOD GO DOWN HILL.

Brenda Addison
Brenda Addison

This country is being ripped apart by libs/Blacks/dems and obamas FAILED domestic policy . This is a diversion from obamas FAILED FOREIGN POLICY . Why don't ALL OF YOU so-called protestors call yourselves red blood AMERICANS? ? ? ? ? ? Duh! YOU ARE ONES SPLITTING HAURS! ! SHOOTING YOURSELVES IN THE FOOT AND DESTROYING THE LEFT- OVER DEMOCRATIC PARTY.

Tonia Ratledge Medlin
Tonia Ratledge Medlin

Stone Mountain was there before the neighborhood was white or black. Moot point.

Buddy Jones
Buddy Jones

Stone mountain has been there longer than the African American neighborhood !!! Most likely it was a White neighborhood before and the mountain was fine.

Ailenka Torresova
Ailenka Torresova

And those black people have Caribbean roots. Mess with them and find out what Blackbeard and others learned about places like Jamaica and Haiti. Go 'head, I dare you.

Michele Benton
Michele Benton

I am sorry...but nothing was ever said until NOW! Lived in Tucker and went to Stone Mountain thousands of times and Black people were there and enjoyed themselves and didn't bother them then....Why Now????

James Graham
James Graham

Comparing the Left Extremists whom are yanking down statues and Vandalizing Monuments to George Washington is Absurd.

Mary Nixon
Mary Nixon

So. Don't go there if you don't like it.

Joshua Morris
Joshua Morris

The memorial was there before those folks moved into the neighborhood. What drew them there? They can choose to leave as well. This whole flap is stupid.

Gregory Cancryn
Gregory Cancryn

Yeah well native americans were there before you folks move into the neighborhood. These icons of the LOSERS of the war, are going to be destroyed. I suggest you stand in front of them when they do.

Joshua Morris
Joshua Morris

'You folks?' That includes you, too. And I'm not trying to delete any portion of history. All my ancestors are from the North--it's not personal for me. I'm sorry you lack any sense of historical perspective and are unwilling to learn the lessons history has taught. That's the unfortunate truth for too many today.

David Lee Underwood
David Lee Underwood

African American,,, that's already a divided status.,,,part this , part that,,,,how bout Hines 57,?

Elinor Wall
Elinor Wall

Add more history of slavery don't take away are history. Put statue of slavery around them add to don't take away \U0001f914

Belinda Wright
Belinda Wright

Why would the blacks move into a neighborhood, around a confederate memorial ground, if it offends them? Leave our heritage ALONE!

Liz Dadin
Liz Dadin

They were so offended they wanted to purchase homes around it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Stone Mountain and the bargaining behind Southern history  MyAJC (blog) […]

    Like

  2. […] Stone Mountain and the bargaining behind Southern history  MyAJC (blog) […]

    Like

  3. […] Stone Mountain and the bargaining behind Southern history  MyAJC (blog) […]

    Like

  4. […] me to point you to the Thursday column on the American habit of editing history in public spaces, and the negotiations that have taken place in the […]

    Like

  5. […] Stone Mountain and the bargaining behind Southern history […]

    Like