The problem with Stone Mountain
Le débat autour du plus grand monument confédéré des États-Unis.
Le Confederate Monument de Stone Mountain, en Géorgie, est le plus grand monument confédéré des États-Unis. Cet immense bas-relief logé sur cette montagne représente trois leaders des États confédérés d'Amérique. À l’heure où les statues et monuments à la gloire des figures sécessionnistes suscitent de plus en plus de réactions dans le pays, notamment de la part des mouvements anti-racistes, les avis sur Stone Mountain divergent...
The Lasershow Spectacular (™) is a celebration of brand America. Its huge 3D video projection (“taller than the Statue of Liberty!”) pulls out all the stops – depicting patriotic icons from bald eagles to Mickey Mouse to towering letters spelling U-S-A, with lots of fiery explosions and a rousing musical score. 2. Families visiting the park, which is Georgia’s most popular tourist attraction, come here to picnic on the grand lawn and gaze up at the show, which is projected directly on to Stone Mountain’s Confederate monument. The show ends with the three sculptures of the Confederate leaders – Generals Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Confederate president Jefferson Davis – coming to life and ”riding off” into the evening sky. 3. The scale of the monument, which was only finished in 1972, probably can’t be fully appreciated until it is seen firsthand. It’s by far the biggest memorial to the Confederacy, and at 158ft tall is the largest stone carving of its kind in the world. It was also started by the Ku Klux Klan. The owner of the land was a Klansman, as was the original sculptor (who also created Mount Rushmore). And it sits inside Stone Mountain state park, just east of downtown
Atlanta, only a few miles from the birthplace of Martin Luther King.
REMOVING THE STATUE
4. The Stone Mountain carving is a monument to men who fought to defend slavery and white supremacy. Some Georgia residents argue the statue must be removed, others that it is a part of history that needs to be protected. Richard Rose, the Atlanta chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is firmly in the first camp.
5. The three men depicted by the carving contributed to a war that killed thousands in the name of defending slavery, he says. And it didn’t end there. “They continued the practices of white supremacy after the war,” Rose said. Stone Mountain, he argues, “speaks not to Atlanta, per se, but to the state of Georgia, which every year tries to proclaim a Confederate History Month”.
A MOVEMENT ACROSS THE U.S.
6. As a movement grows to remove Confederate symbols across the US – including tearing down statues and lowering Confederate flags from state facilities – fresh attention is being paid to the biggest Confederate monument of all. Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate in Georgia, who [just ran] a hotly contested race to try to shift the long-time red state blue, has previously criticised the monument.
7. After the Charlottesville violence at the Unite the Right rally last August, Abrams condemned the carving in a series of tweets. “Confederate monuments belong in museums where we can study and reflect on that terrible history, not in places of honor across our state,” she wrote. But the politics of the issue are difficult – not least because you can’t easily take down a sculpture carved into side of a mountain – and more recently Abrams has said that although she stands by her position, dealing with the monument is not top of her list of priorities.
A DIVIDED COMMUNITY
8. Indeed, not all prominent black politicians and activists agree about the monument. Michael Thurmond is the first and only African American on the board of Stone Mountain Park, as well as the CEO of DeKalb County, where the carving stands. He wants to leave it where it is.
9. Looking out from the park’s Memorial Hall towards the carving, the 65-year-old veteran politician argued that the monument is a “memorial to the myth of the lost cause”. The south, he says, was a “failed experiment in white supremacy. [The carving] presents an opportunity to teach this generation and the next generation how movements based on racism, based on bias and prejudice are ultimately defeated.” Some of the white tourists on a recent visit agreed with Thurmond, including Margie Legg, 67, visiting her daughter from Maryland. “What’s the point? Someone spent a lot of time. It’s an artistic piece,” she said.
‘HISTORY IS HISTORY’
10. Others come at the issue from a closer perspective. Gloria Brown, 78, grew up in Stone Mountain and still lives in a white wooden bungalow on one of the village’s handful of streets. She recalls her visits as a child to Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta, where she’d ride up and down the escalator to the Magnolia Room restaurant – which she wasn’t allowed to enter. Not until the establishment desegregated in the 1960s, after a sit-in that included King, did Brown, then in her twenties, step foot inside.
11. Her mother worked as a summer maid for James R Venable, whose family were key organizers of the local Ku Klux Klan faction; the Venable family owned Stone Mountain before it was bought by the state in 1958, and it was Samuel Venable, a Klansman and quarry operator, who deeded its north face to the United Daughters of the Confederacy for the original carving.
12. So it is perhaps surprising that she thinks the monument should stay. She calls it a reminder of her life, of her family’s history in the south, of her experience as an African American woman. She says she doesn’t understand why some prominent African American civil rights activists and politicians want to remove it. “Good or bad, history is history. You can’t erase the fact of history. Slavery wasn’t right but you can’t go in the textbook and remove it or take it out, ever,” she said.
Stone Mountain’s Confederate monument depicting Confederate leaders Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, in Georgia.