A Monument to MLK Will Crown Stone Mountain

Jim Galloway, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 12, 2015

On the summit of Stone Mountain, yards away from where Ku Klux Klansmen once burned giant crosses, just above and beyond the behemoth carving of three Confederate heroes, state authorities have agreed to erect a monument to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Specifically, an elevated tower–featuring a replica of the Liberty Bell–would celebrate the single line in the civil rights martyr’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech that makes reference to the 825-foot-tall hunk of granite: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”

“It is one of the best-known speeches in U.S. history,” said Bill Stephens, the chief executive officer of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. “We think it’s a great addition to the historical offerings we have here.”

The “freedom bell” will, in fact, sound from the mountaintop. How often, or when, hasn’t been determined.

Also in the works at the state-owned, privately operated park: a permanent exhibit on African-American soldiers in the Civil War.

Both the monument and the exhibit would be financed with park revenue–chiefly parking and entrance fees. No appropriation from the state Legislature would be required. {snip}

Gov. Nathan Deal has green-lighted the projects, and a formal rollout is likely to come before the holiday season. (A Deal initiative to place an MLK statue on the grounds of the state Capitol remains in the works, delayed by the death of the sculptor originally chosen for the job.)

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Because King’s 1963 speech is copyrighted, permission of King’s heirs will be required. “Discussions have taken place with the King family and are taking place now,” Stephens said. “Their initial reaction is very favorable. But we haven’t completed those discussions yet.”

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By state law, Stone Mountain serves as a memorial to the Confederacy and its fight to preserve slavery in America. And so the Rebel battle flag will continue to fly near Confederate Hall. Street names such as Jefferson Davis Drive and Robert E. Lee Boulevard won’t be touched. Suggestions that the 3-acre carving of Davis, Lee and Stonewall Jackson be sandblasted off the side of the mountain have been rejected out of hand.

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Stephens hopes to have the monument in place by next summer. Standing in front of the carving on Stone Mountain’s northern face, park visitors on the ground won’t be able to see the MLK marker, which will be dominated by an arch 18 feet tall.

But Stephens said the monument’s location on the summit has been selected with the Confederate carving–and bit of symbolic storytelling–in mind.

A cable-car ride now takes mountaintop visitors close to the massive work, brushing past the nose of Jeff Davis, the only president of the Southern rebellion. Next summer, as the car rises above the mountain’s curve, the next picture presented to the eye will be a monument to a man silenced by a rifle shot that, many would argue, was fired in the same war–just 103 years later.

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[Editor’s Note: Below is the response of the Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.]

The Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans responded today to the proposal by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to erect a monument to MLK, former black civil rights activist. This decision by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association is wholly inappropriate in that it is an intentional act of disrespect toward the stated purpose of the Stone Mountain memorial from its inception as well as a possible violation of the law which established the Stone Mountain Memorial Association and charged it with promoting the mountain as a Confederate memorial.

The Venable family, which owned Stone Mountain in the early 1900′s, leased the face of the mountain to the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1916 for the purpose of creating a carved memorial to the Confederacy. The UDC contracted Gutzon Borglum, who later sculpted the Mount Rushmore carving; after the work was halted due to a disagreement with Borglum, the carving remained unfinished for several decades. As the state began to discuss interest in reviving the memorial project as a state project, the Venable family deeded the land to the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial, Inc. in 1956. Two years later, in 1958, the state of Georgia purchased Stone Mountain; and the General Assembly created the Stone Mountain Memorial Association expressly to maintain the mountain and all adjacent property as a Confederate memorial and complete a portion of the original design for the carving.

The act of the General Assembly which created the Stone Mountain Memorial Association specifically states the park, including both the mountain and all adjacent property, is to be maintained and operated as a Confederate memorial (OCGA 12-3-191). The erection of monuments to anyone other than Confederate heroes in Stone Mountain Park is in contradistinction to the purpose for which the park exists and would make it a memorial to something different. The park was never intended to be a memorial to multiple causes but solely to the Confederacy. Therefore, monuments to either Michael King or soldiers of any color who fought against the Confederacy would be a violation of the purpose for which the park was created and exists. The opinions of the park’s current neighbors and opponents are of no bearing in the discussion.

Furthermore, the erection of a monument to anything other than the Confederate Cause being placed on top of Stone Mountain because of the objections of opponents of Georgia’s Confederate heritage would be akin to the state flying a Confederate battle flag atop the King Center in Atlanta against the wishes of King supporters. Both would be altogether inappropriate and disrespectful acts, repugnant to Christian people.

For more information about the Sons of Confederate Veterans or any of this year’s planned events to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the War, contact the Georgia SCV at 404-271-8473 or online at www.GeorgiaSCV.org

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