Following the removal of the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s State House grounds, the NAACP must really be feeling its oats. Now the organization has shifted its sights to Georgia’s Stone Mountain, 15 miles east of Atlanta, where a massive 825-foot stone outcropping features a bas-relief carving of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on its north face. It is the biggest bas-relief in the world. The NAACP doesn’t know or care how, but it is calling for the monument’s removal.
I am not a fan of the practice of defacing our natural heritage by carving into mountains the images of political and cultural leaders, whether it is the men who led the Civil War insurrection (as at Stone Mountain), popular American presidents (as at Mount Rushmore), or a warrior who resisted the steady onslaught of the white colonizers of the American West (as at the Crazy Horse Memorial). Such examples belie an unseemly arrogance and misunderstanding of mankind’s place in nature that will probably be our undoing as a species, Abu Simbel notwithstanding (I sometimes wonder if Ramesses the Great isn’t best understood as the Donald Trump of the ancient world?).
Yet I cannot help but think that this latest demand by the NAACP is an example of its own political overreach and hubris. It certainly is a distraction that will prevent society from addressing more substantive and practical results of racism… like assuring access to affordable quality housing, a proliferation of good jobs and a living wage, inner-city schools that provide adequate educations, etc. And it will needlessly piss some people off who are already feeling like their way of life, their hegemony, is under assault. You cannot force people to like you. Through force, however, you can get people to hate you more.
I cannot help but think that this is a particularly inflammatory demand, especially considering that Stone Mountain is the site of the founding of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915 (which used to have a permanent easement to hold its ceremonies there). No amount of sandblasting can obscure this historical fact.
But maybe this is what the NAACP and others want. What other side issue could better inflame passions, introduce strife and friction between the races, promote a grand strategy of divide-and-conquer?
In 1958 the State of Georgia purchased Stone Mountain. The area around the monument was landscaped for recreation and Walker Kirtland Hancock was retained in 1963 to oversee completion of the artwork, begun in 1923 but never completed until 1972. Recognizing the need for sustaining tourist dollars, the park land now includes golf courses, a railroad, an artificial lake with a Mississippi river boat, a museum of automobiles, and exhibits of Southern history. In the 1980s, a former Six Flags manager was brought in to oversee the park and developed it into a profitable tourist and conference center focusing on Southern and Confederate culture, with the carving receding into the background. For the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Stone Mountain Park hosted cycling, tennis and archery events.
I say let the crackers have their theme park. Richard Rose, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP claims that “the state should not be supporting or condoning white supremacy with my tax dollars.” Yet the place draws over 4 million visitors a year and is Georgia’s biggest tourist attraction. A spokesman for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which maintains the park, says the property is self-sufficient. Park maintenance and operations are covered by revenues, not tax dollars.
Rather than allowing this reminder of the past to become a wedge between the races, the state of Georgia could just transfer ownership of the memorial from the state to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association—a nonprofit—for a price, even. These kind of swaps and transfers happen all the time.
There are many proposals circulating right now for adding the images of Martin Luther King, James Oglethorpe, and even Jimmy Carter to the monument to make Stone Mountain “an enlightened place that reflects all of Georgia’s history.” This simply plays into the hands of the distractors and would make Stone Mountain more of a jumbled mess than it already is.
I say we should declare a moratorium on the practice of using the political winds of change to deface our timeless natural landmarks. Let Stone Mountain stand as it is as an instructive monument to mankind’s ignorance and hubris.
Maybe this would provide the space for us to focus on issues that really count.
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