Stone Mountain is an enormous monadnock in Dekalb County, Georgia, which is home to the largest memorial to the Confederacy in the country. It has been subject to protests and efforts to have the 158-foot memorial depicting Confederate figures Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis removed — and those efforts have been magnified during recent events.
Debate is hot over monuments, locations and military bases named after leaders of the Confederacy. Nationwide, protests still rage over police brutality and racism, after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
A petition has recently been revived to have Davis, Lee and Jackson blasted from Stone Mountain’s surface and replaced with what some say are the more appropriate likenesses of legendary Atlanta rap duo Outkast.
Here’s what you need to know about Stone Mountain and the efforts to have its Confederate monument removed:
1. Work on the Monument Started in 1923 by Gutzon Borglum, Who Also Created the Mt. Rushmore Monument & Had Ties to the Ku Klux Klan
Helen Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, first pushed for a memorial to Confederate heroes on the mountain. She contracted famed sculptor Gutzon Borglum for the initial sketches in 1915, with carving beginning in 1923, according to Stone Mountain Park’s records.
Borglum is a controversial figure in his own right. According to Smithsonian magazine, he wrote letters about his fear of a “mongrel horde” overrunning the “Nordic” purity of the West and began working with the Ku Klux Klan in 1915 — if not formally becoming a member. The monument was originally intended to include a tribute to the Klan, with members surrounding Lee in the carving, Vice reported.
In 1924, Borglum was thrown off the project by its backers in Atlanta, after he vented about issues with the venture in a local paper and was approached about designing the Mt. Rushmore memorial, according to the Smithsonian and Stone Mountain Park page. He had only just finished carving Robert E. Lee’s head, according to Smithsonian.
Borglum was replaced with sculptor Henry Augustus Lukeman, who worked until 1928, when the deed to the mountain reverted to its original owner, who had demanded the memorial be finished in 12 years, according to the Stone Mountain Park website.
Work resumed in 1964, after the state, led by staunchly anti-integration Governor Marvin Griffin, purchased the mountain in 1958, according to Georgia Encyclopedia. Griffin intended the new state park to be a monument to the South of the past and to stagger the civil rights movement in the region, according to historian Elizabeth Grace Hale.
“For the governor and other supporters of the new plans, the completion of the carving would demonstrate to the rest of the nation that ‘progress’ meant not black rights, but the maintenance of white supremacy,” Hale wrote, according to Smithsonian.
The monument was finally completed on March 3, 1972.
2. It Depicts Three Heroes of the Confederacy — Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson & Robert E. Lee — 200 Feet Wide & Looming 400 Feet Above the Ground
The Stone Mountain monument depicts Lee, Davis and Jackson on horseback and spans about 200 horizontal feet, standing 158 feet tall. According to the Guardian, it is the largest stone carving of its sort in the world.
Davis was president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War and imprisoned for two years on the charge of treason after Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. A statue of Davis was toppled by protesters in Richmond, Virginia, on June 10, and a New Orleans statue of the controversial Confederate hero was removed by the city of New Orleans in 2017 after public pressure.
Lee commanded the army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War and served as military advisor to Davis, according to PBS. His forces were victorious in several battles before his 1865 surrender. This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joined Congressional Representatives Max Rose and Yvette D. Clarke in calling on the U.S. Army to rename General Lee Avenue within Brooklyn’s Fort Hamilton. A statue of Lee was also removed in Dallas, Texas, after a near-unanimous city council vote in 2017.
General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson served under Lee during the Civil War and became a revered figure to the Southern cause due to his battlefield feats. He died in 1863 from complications of an injury caused accidentally by his own men, according to Encyclopedia Virginia. In Charleston, West Virginia, last week, activists demanded that a statue of Jackson be removed from the capitol grounds, WOWK reported.
3. Calls to Demolish the Carving Have Been Ongoing for Years; They Have Intensified as Protests Erupt Nationwide Over Police Brutality & Systemic Racism
Prominent voting rights activist, former member of the Georgia House of Representatives and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams — who is also rumored to be in the running for the 2020 Democratic Vice Presidential slot — said the monument has been a thorn in the side of equality advocates for decades. In the days following the fateful “Unite the Right” rally that resulted in Heather Heyer‘s murder, she Tweeted that “the monument had no purpose other than celebration of racism, terror and division when carved in 1915.”
The removal of the bas relief of Confederates from Stone Mountain has been a constant debate since the state bought the property in 1958. /1
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) August 15, 2017
Abrams also called the monument a “blight on the state.”
In 2001, Democratic Georgia lawmakers fought to remove Confederate symbols from the state flag. They compromised and agreed to a statute protecting memorials to the Confederate military, along with the U.S. military, thus protecting Stone Mountain’s relief. State Sen. Lester Jackson told Smithsonian magazine that many in the Black Caucus were uncomfortable with the compromise — and that it should later be revisited.
Late last month, young activist Zoe Bambara organized an anti-racism protest calling out the Confederacy’s legacy, in a courtyard in the shadow of the monument, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. And last week, Atlanta law professor George Shepherd published an op-ed calling for the monument’s destruction on CNN.
The process of actually removing the carving would not be simple, though, many have pointed out.
President of the Atlanta Geological Society Ben Bentkowski told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that using dynamite would work but could create a dangerous hazard. “Removing a gigantic sculpture off the side of a mountain is not a trivial undertaking,” he said.
The former lieutenant governor of Georgia also told the AJC in 2017 that Abrams’ calls for its destruction were inflammatory and, “we should work together to add to our history, not take from it.”
4. As Recently as 2017, the Ku Klux Klan Was Trying to Hold a Public Cross-Burning at Stone Mountain; the Request Was Denied
In May 2017, the Sacred Knights of the Ku Klux Klan submitted a request to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to hold a “lighting ceremony” at the mountain’s summit, Fox News reported.
The application asked for the ceremony to be held in October, with around 20 participants who wanted to remember the Klan’s historic Stone Mountain revival in 1915.
“We will light our cross and 20 minutes later we’ll be gone,” the application read, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A spokesman for Stone Mountain told the outlet that they didn’t want the Klan or any group like it at the park. “This is a family-oriented park,” he said.
A white supremacist rally was previously held on the mountain in 2016, but pro-white demonstrators were outnumbered 10-1 by counter-protesters, CNN reported. Nine people were arrested, including one white supremacist demonstrator who authorities said threw a smoke bomb at riot police.
5. Proponents of Removing the Monument Would Like to See it Replaced With Legendary Atlanta Rap Duo Outkast
As the movement to remove Lee, Davis and Jackson from Stone Mountain has gathered steam, a number of petitions have circulated. Most go only so far as to demand that the Confederate heroes’ likenesses be removed.
One that has recently garnered attention, however, doesn’t state that the original carving must go. Instead, its authors say that Atlanta heroes OutKast — Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton — be added alongside the Confederate carvings.
“I believe that Daddy Fat Sacks and Three Stacks should be carved riding in a Cadillac (as it their wont),” Mack Williams wrote on the petition. “This will help the new carving blend nicely with the Confederates who are on horseback.”
The petition calls Outkast two of the greatest Georgians in history and says it’s long past time the state pays them tribute. It was first circulated in 2015 but has recently gotten more attention, with more than 15,000 signatures.
People on Twitter have resurrected the petition in light of other Confederate monuments coming under fire.
— BrooklynVegan (@brooklynvegan) June 11, 2020
Williams told the New Yorker in 2017 that Big Boi himself called him to endorse the idea.
“I was in Blackshear, Georgia, at my grandmother’s ninetieth-birthday party,” he told the magazine. “I’m, like, ‘I’ve got to step out to talk to Big Boi, Grandmother.’ Big Boi was supernice. He loved the idea. I never did hear anything from André 3000, though.”
The Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally changed Williams’s mind, however. As he told the New Yorker, “after the events of the last few weeks, I’m thinking we should probably just blow it off the side of the mountain altogether.”
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