A compromise on Stone Mountain Confederate monument

(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Ever since the craze of trying to erase the nation’s history by tearing down monuments that some people find offensive got started, there have been repeated demands to “do something” about Stone Mountain Confederate monument in Georgia. Unlike some of the typical statues that cities erect that can be dragged down during a riot with some ropes and chains, however, this one isn’t so easy for protesters to tackle. For one thing, it’s gigantic. It takes up three acres of space and it’s literally carved into the side of a mountain, as the name suggests. It depicts Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson riding on horseback. To get rid of it would require a significant amount of dynamite and a skilled demolition crew. Also, it’s one of Georgia’s biggest and most frequently visited tourist destinations.

In response to the calls for changes by BLM advocates and others, some alterations are indeed coming. But the mural is not going to be destroyed or changed. Instead, a new exhibit will be added to the park, seeking to tell the whole, complicated story of the region’s past, including the involvement of the Klu Klux Klan. Is this going to appease everyone? Obviously not, but at least they’re making an effort. (CNN)

A new exhibit that seeks to explain “the whole story” of the nation’s largest Confederate monument, including the history of the Ku Klux Klan there, is coming to Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park, the park’s board said Monday.

The exhibit will be developed together with “credible and well-established historians,” the board said in a news release, “to tell the warts and all history of the Stone Mountain carving,” including the 1915 rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan on the mountain “and the 50-years of Klan rallies which followed,” until the state bought the mountain and land around it in 1958…

The monument has long been a flashpoint of debate between those who see it as part of the South’s heritage and those for whom it represents White supremacy. It cannot be removed under Georgia law.

Last summer, Stone Mountain was the site of simultaneous protests and counterprotests with armed participants keeping the authorities on edge. (You can watch a video report of that conflict here.) Thankfully, things didn’t get too out of hand.

As far as this new exhibit they’re planning goes, I don’t have any problem with it. The country’s history is complicated and people should have the opportunity to be educated about it, including both the good and the bad. Or, as the planning board put it, “the warts and all history of the Stone Mountain carving.” If the solution is to expand one of their parks and provide even more historical information, that’s a great approach.

It’s certainly far better than allowing mobs to descend on public property and destroy existing displays. I have to wonder how much more rational this debate could have been if people could have negotiated to have other statues and monuments expanded with additional features to add historical context rather than just smashing them to pieces in the dead of night. There’s never been any point to these attacks from the beginning. No amount of destroyed statuary will erase the past and make it so the antebellum south never existed.

Just for a bit of background, the Stone Mountain memorial is recognized as the largest bas-relief artwork in the world. It’s actually larger than Mount Rushmore, though perhaps not as famous. The park officially opened in 1965, but planning for the monument is believed to have begun as early as 1869. As a darker part of its history, the monument was considered to be “holy ground” for the Klu Klux Klan according to many historians.