Posted on May 28, 2021

Giant Confederate Monument Will Remain at Revamped Stone Mountain

Timothy Pratt and Rick Rojas, New York Times, May 24, 2021

The Confederate flags that have long flapped at the base of Stone Mountain, placed there by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, will be moved to a less prominent area, joining other relics of the Civil War. New exhibits will offer a fuller and more complicated description of the park’s history, attempting to reach beyond the war it memorializes to the role the Ku Klux Klan and resistance to desegregation played in its creation.

But the enormous monument at the center of the park — Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson carved into stone as a Confederate equivalent to Mount Rushmore — is not going anywhere.

Officials in Georgia voted on Monday to modernize Stone Mountain Park, prodded to update what has long been one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations as it confronts staggering financial losses and major vendors pulling out after the coronavirus pandemic and racial justice protests last year.

Yet the solution approved by the park’s governing board has frustrated critics on all sides. Activists who want to strip out, or at least try to downplay, the specter of the Confederacy over the park viewed it as a half-measure. Supporters of the monument have resisted any changes to what they see as a precious homage to their Southern heritage.


The division reflects a familiar tension in Georgia, which is wrestling with conflicting perceptions of itself as Democrats have made political strides in a deeply conservative state and the population has grown increasingly diverse.

“We’re at a point where the state is teetering on going one way or the other politically,” said Sheffield Hale, the president and chief executive of the Atlanta History Center, describing the demographic shifts and surge in political participation driving a “period of political flux.”

“The mountain is at the center of that,” he said.

The debate has also illuminated limitations of the broader efforts to dismantle the symbols of the Confederacy that have endured for generations across the South. Monuments to Confederate leaders were toppled and names were stripped from buildings amid the protests and reckoning over race that erupted across the country last year {snip}

But efforts to take on the Stone Mountain memorial were stymied by legal constraints and the logistics of taking down a monument that is 90 feet tall, 190 feet across and covers roughly three acres on the side of a mountain. (Removing it would most likely require years and lots of explosives.)

The idea for the sculpture — one of the largest bas-relief carvings in the world — emerged in 1914, portrayed as a massive memorial to the Lost Cause, or the notion that the South was defending more than just slavery in the Civil War.


The park has long been one of the most popular destinations in the state, but it has seen a precipitous drop in revenue, losing $27 million between 2019 and 2020. Marriott, which operates the hotel and conference center on the park’s grounds, has said it was pulling out.


But supporters of the monument contend that its history can be a force for reinvestment. “We’re in favor of ‘heritage tourism,’” said Martin K. O’Toole, a spokesman for the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, comparing it to colonial tourist sites.

“The carvings memorialize the people who served the Confederacy,” Mr. O’Toole said. “You can admire people like Robert E. Lee and not be in favor of segregation.”


Beyond the sculpture, the park is packed with references to the Confederacy: There are boulevards named for Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and a drive named for Confederate war heroes. State law says that the park’s overseers “shall continue the practice of stocking, restocking, and sales of Confederate memorabilia.”