Confederate Imagery On Stone Mountain Is Changing, But Not Fast Enough For Some
The 90-foot carving on the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia is the largest Confederate monument in the world. As the U.S. undergoes racial reckoning, the monument's future remains in doubt.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As debate continues about how racism is taught in American schools, a massive reminder of the nation's past in the form of a tribute to the Confederacy remains carved on the side of a mountain in Georgia. The board that controls Stone Mountain State Park meets again today to talk about changes to the way the Confederacy is portrayed. As Emil Moffatt of member station WABE reports, some advocates are frustrated with the slow pace of change.
EMIL MOFFATT, BYLINE: Monthly board meetings of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association are held in a spacious resort hotel ballroom nestled inside the park. Following the social justice movement across the country over the past year, the crowds at the meetings have grown; so, too, has the tension between those who want the 90-foot-tall Confederate carving removed and those who think it should stay.
ABRAHAM MOSLEY: Please, now, if you get out of order, we have people to take you out.
MOFFATT: The carving at the center of the debate is the largest Confederate monument in the world. It depicts Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis on horseback. Grady Vickery is with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He grew up near the park.
GRADY VICKERY: And what it means to me is that being a lifelong student of history, local history, Georgia history, your history, my history, it's all our common history, folks. This carving is a monument.
MOFFATT: While the imagery on the carving calls to mind the Civil War, no battles were fought at Stone Mountain. The carving isn't even that old, having been finished in 1972. That's why John Evans, the former head of a local NAACP chapter, dismisses the heritage argument. He says the carving represents one thing - a continuation of white supremacy well past the Civil War.
JOHN EVANS: What we want you to do and what we want you to consider is taking down the edifice of the three generals on the mountain. We've got to clean it up.
MOFFATT: Despite the carving controversy, the park remains popular, drawing 3 million visitors a year. But Stone Mountain CEO Bill Stephens says some businesses no longer want to hold their conventions at the park's hotels. As for what he can do about it, he says his hands are tied by a Georgia law that protects Confederate monuments and by the sheer size of the task.
BILL STEPHENS: To remove the carving would take a small tactical nuclear weapon. It's three acres of solid granite. It's probably not going anywhere. That's why we're telling the story about it.
MOFFATT: Stephens and the chairman of the Stone Mountain Board, the Reverend Abraham Mosley, says the conversation about potential changes is ongoing. Mosley is a Black pastor appointed to the post by Governor Brian Kemp.
MOSLEY: I'm sure the carving will come up. It has already came up. Where we go from there, I don't know. And I think on what the CEO said, we want to tell the whole story, the good, the bad and ugly.
MOFFATT: But a new advisory committee that will decide what that whole story looks like is likely to face increased pressure. A growing movement by some conservatives, including Governor Kemp, seeks to avoid divisive topics about the history of race in the U.S. And on the other side, activists like Atlanta civil rights attorney Gerald Griggs say they'll continue to demand change.
GERALD GRIGGS: This is not a reflection of what Georgia should be. It should be inclusive. It should tell all of the history, and it should remove the hate, starting with the carvings.
MOFFATT: Last month, the board voted to relocate Confederate flags away from the main hiking area, and today, it considers a new park logo, one that's not expected to feature an image of the carving.
For NPR News, I'm Emil Moffatt in Atlanta.
(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN'S "SILHOUETTE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.