Stone Mountain Carving: A Symbol of White Supremacy Which Should Be Removed?
“T hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is a famous quote attributed to George Santayana; but it has been misquoted over the years as “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
If Richard Rose has it his way, the famous carving on the face of Stone Mountain would be sandblasted into history. The president of the Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — more popularly known as the NAACP, which is a civil rights group representing black people — believes that what is considered to be the largest high relief sculpture in the world represents three men who enacted “laws that institutionalized economic oppression and denied educational opportunities, equal treatment under the law and voting rights to the descendants of the stolen Africans”, according to this article posted by the staff of WAGA-TV Fox 5 News in Atlanta.
The three men depicted on the carving — Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy; Robert E. Lee, a general of the Confederate army; and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, also a general of the Confederate army — are considered Confederate heroes of the Civil War of the United States, which occurred greater than 150 years ago; but Rose reportedly said that “in the 150 years since, state and local governments in the South (including Georgia) have lionized these men as symbols of the cause of white supremacy”.
Stone Mountain is one of the more popular tourist attractions in the Atlanta metropolitan area which local people also enjoy. The mountain is 825 feet tall and covers 583 acres; while the top of the mountain is 1,683 feet above sea level. The entire carved surface — known as the Confederate Memorial Carving — measures three acres, which is larger than a football field and Mount Rushmore. The carving of the three men towers 400 feet above the ground; measures 90 by 190 feet; and is recessed 42 feet into the mountain.
Originally intended to be completed in 1928, it took approximately 60 years for the carving to progress from concept to its final completion in 1972.
An ever-popular laser show using the carving as a backdrop has become a beloved tradition in the Atlanta area for both visitors and residents alike — of numerous races, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, genders and ages. Although I have not attended recently, I have enjoyed a picnic while relaxing on a blanket on the great lawn to that laser show — which is set to music — more than once; and it is included in the parking fee of $15.00, which is good all day long…
…so should it be permanently removed?
I say no.
This statement attributed to Jimmy Carter — a former president of the United States — summarizes his feelings, which are similar to what I feel: “there should be a distinction between the battle flag and tributes to Confederate figures, such as the large carving at Stone Mountain Park or statues in his home county in Georgia.”
What he calls the “battle flag” refers to the Confederate flag, which is seen by many people as a symbol of hate; while others whose families have been located in the southern United States for generations consider it a symbol of heritage. Many people have joined the recent movement to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings and monuments — a movement which gained a significant amount of momentum as a result of the killing of nine innocent people by suspect Dylann Roof in a house of worship in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Here is an article with the latest information on this story as written by Andrew Knapp of The Post and Courier, which is a newspaper based in Charleston.
My roots are not in the southern United States, so I am far from qualified to enter the debate of whether or not the Confederate flag represents hate versus heritage — but I do not believe that erasing history is the answer.
Concentration camps were certainly institutions of hate and symbols — examples of some of the blatantly worst of human behavior in recorded history where millions of people were killed simply because of reasons of fallacy and ignorance: they believed in something specific or were not perfect in terms of their appearance. Should concentration camps such as Dachau — of which I posted my thoughts and photographs in this article and this article — be razed? Let the bulldozers flatten Auchwitz and forget about it?
“Never again” and “never forget” are two phrases uttered by those who suffered at the hands of those who perpetuated the Holocaust greater than 70 years ago; and I would believe that similar sentiments would be expressed by those whose ancestors were forced out of Africa and sold as slaves — a major issue which led to the aforementioned Civil War in which as many as 850,000 people died.
Slavery was abolished after the deadliest war in the United States ended by official declaration on Tuesday, May 9, 1865; and the Confederacy was dissolved shortly thereafter.
It is important to note that Stone Mountain Park has been operated by a private entity for greater than 15 years — before that, it was under the operation of the state of Georgia — but because the park celebrates the heritage of the Confederacy, it cannot remove symbols such as the Confederate flag and the carving without approval from the state of Georgia.
Regardless, I believe that the carving is a work of art which depicts an important era in the history of the United States — good or bad — and it would be a mistake to remove or erase it.
What are your thoughts? Please participate in the poll and share how you feel in the Comments section below.
All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.