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Confederate Imagery On Stone Mountain Is Changing, But Not Fast Enough For Some

The 90-foot tall carving of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis at Stone Mountain State Park in Georgia was completed in 1972. In recent years, activists have increased calls for the Confederate imagery to be removed.
The 90-foot tall carving of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis at Stone Mountain State Park in Georgia was completed in 1972. In recent years, activists have increased calls for the Confederate imagery to be removed.

As calls to remove Confederate monuments have increased in recent years across the U.S., the debate over what to do with the biggest one is getting louder.

Monthly board meetings of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association are held in a spacious resort hotel ballroom nestled inside the Georgia park. As the social justice movement has gained steam, so have the crowds at the meetings. Tension is bubbling up between those who want the 90-foot tall Confederate carving removed and those who think it should stay.

The carving at the center of the debate is the largest Confederate monument in the world. It depicts Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee and president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, on horseback.

Grady Vickery is with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He grew up near the park.

"What it means to me is that, being a lifelong student of history, local history, Georgia history, your history, my history, it's all common history folks," said Vickery. "This carving is a monument."

While the imagery on the carving calls to mind the Civil War, no battles were fought at Stone Mountain. None of the three men was from Georgia, and the carving isn't even that old, having been finished in 1972.

That's why John Evans, the former leader 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.

"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," Evans said.

The board that controls Stone Mountain State Park meets again Monday to discuss incremental changes to the way the Confederacy is portrayed.

In May, the board voted to relocate Confederate flags away from the main hiking area. Now, it will consider a new park logo, one that's not expected to feature an image of the carving.

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.

We want to tell the whole story. The good, the bad and the ugly.

"To remove the carving would take a small, tactical nuclear weapon," Stephens said. "Three acres of solid granite, it's probably not going anywhere, that's why we're telling the story about it."

Stephens and the chairman of the Stone Mountain board, the Rev. Abraham Mosley, say the conversation about potential changes is ongoing.

"I'm sure the carving will come up. It has already come up. Where we go from there? I don't know," said Mosley, a Black pastor from Athens, Georgia recently appointed to head the board by Gov. Brian Kemp. "And I think what the CEO said, we want to tell the whole story, the good, the bad and the ugly."

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 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.

"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 carving," said Griggs.

Copyright 2021 WABE 90.1