Film on Stone Mountain a view to the present
The Atlanta History Center’s new documentary about Stone Mountain has lots of grainy black-and-white film of the Ku Klux Klan rallying atop the big rock.
Then the storyline gets more unsettling. It has color film of a cross burning in 1973, just a year after the Confederate carving was finished, complete with a Klansman saying “Burn, (N-word), burn!”
The past, to twist Faulkner’s quote, wasn’t that long ago.
Stone Mountain is history and at the same time is very present.
Atlanta History Center CEO Sheffield Hale told me the documentary is “timely. There’s a high-level of interest in this.”
The state legislature is now considering allocating $11 million to refurbish a building at the park and create a “truth-telling” museum to narrate the story of the massive carving. And the digital documentary is spreading the story online and, as Hale says, is demonstrating that the history center is not just “terrestrial.”
This ain’t your grandfather’s Atlanta History Center, kids.
The 32-minute documentary tells the story of the origin of the massive carving of Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee astride their ginormous horses. It’s the Holy Trinity of the Confederacy. The documentary presents it as a tribute to the Lost Cause, the capping point to the widespread effort across the South after the Civil War to mythologize the losing side’s heroes and goals.
And to make sure Black folks knew their place.
It’s expertly crafted with several learned talking heads interspersed with historical footage, soundbites and factoids.
It tells the story of the effort early in the last century to create a Confederate colossus forever to be revered. It was a memorial that wasn’t going anywhere unless you had artillery to blast it away.
Hale said the history center is not advocating the the destruction of the carving or anything like that. It’s just trying to kick off “a real conversation” about the monument, which dominates the park, a place that attracts people from all races.
“That’s the conversation; should we have a 3,000-acre park that’s a monument to the Confederacy?” Hale asked. “It’s not just an artifact from a time of massive resistance (to desegregation). This is backed, by law, by the state.”
At the end of the documentary, Hale reads from the Official Code of Georgia, an act created in 2001. It says, the “heroes” who are “graven upon the face of Stone Mountain shall never be altered, removed, concealed or obscured in any fashion and shall be preserved for all time.”
Or at least, that is, until some future legislature comes into office decades and thinks differently.
Today, many Confederate memorials are being curated with markers being erected nearby to tell the story of how the Lost Cause was mythologized. Stone Mountain would certainly need a big marker. Or, a museum.
State Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Black Democrat who represents the Stone Mountain area, has tried to pass a law allowing localities remove such monuments, to no avail.
Of Stone Mountain’s carving, he’d like to see the state stop maintaining it and allow weeds, kudzu and dirt to start covering the granite heroes. “Let nature do its thing,” he told me. “After while, you’d never know they were there.”
Like they say about old soldiers — they could slowly fade away.