Can’t We Fix This?

America is waking up to the fact we finally need to address our racist trash still on display in the forms of monuments and statues. Clearly, it’s way past time to clean this junk up and dispose of it all. We should celebrate the dismantling. That said, may I suggest one exception?

Stone Mountain is a HUGE boil on Atlanta’s backside. A huge racist boil.

Full disclosure: I am a big Stacey Abrams fan. But, the future Vice President has been quoted as saying her position on Stone Mountain would be to sand it down. While I certainly understand her position, I respectfully disagree. Stone Mountain is very different from all those cheap town square confederate knock-offs. The Boil has a story. And, the stone carving is just one part of it.

If we erase everything, do we also erase our best chance to educate future generations? Yes, we can sand it down. But, that huge rock isn’t going anywhere. Its symbol will remain. That huge racist rock and the city of Atlanta will have to learn how to live with each other. Given that, Atlanta has two choices; sand it down and forget it, or, fix it. Turn our long-standing embarrassment into something positive and educational.

Stories are best told with a sense of drama. Say what will of the stone carving, but no one doubts its artistry. The largest bas-relief sculpture in the world is recessed 42 feet into the mountain. It took 56 years to complete. Taking in its enormity, visitors can’t help but be awed. These racists were serious!

Our country has a long-standing problem with systemic racism. Stone Mountain stands before us as exhibit A. Deeded in 1916 to the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) the carving’s stated purpose was to memorialize the rebel effort. In doing so, it also memorialized its root cause. Yet, no one thought that was a bad idea at the time? As a matter of fact, President Calvin Coolidge issued commemorative coins to fund the carving. It was approved by the United States congress in 1926. No one said anything.

In 1958 the State of Georgia buys the mountain. That would have been the time to sand down the existing carving. But no, famous racist and Governor of Georgia at the time decided to double down on the monument. Work began again in 1964. Stone Mountain Park was opened in 1965 while the carving took to 1972 to finally finish. 

So now, we have, or are stuck with, a 1.5 acre piece of art, celebrating racism that towers 400 feet above the ground. On top of that, Stone Mountain has since become one of Georgia top tourist attractions. That means a lot of people are exposed to the mountain’s message. And today, we have that message wrong!

We could have, should have, fixed this problem in 1958. We didn’t. We made it worse. All along the line, people abetted in the myth and sugar coated the truth. They knowingly told lies. Want a deep dive into systematic racism, open the mountain’s archive and I am sure you will find hundreds of data points. But, in 2020, we can finally set the record straight. We can’t run from our truth so we might as well run toward it.

The story of the mountain isn’t a good one. Owned by celebrity racists, the mountain hosted the annual KKK Labor Day, whatever they do. This event was held annually for 50 years! Yet, no one said anything? Over years there were countless times we could have changed the narrative. We didn’t. It was so much easier to sweep the actual truth under the rug. The “go-along” to “get along” group-think mentality is very much at the core of our racial problems.

So what’s next? Fix the message. Call in the historians! Give context.

Several years ago I read about a plan to put an MLK monument on the top of the mountain with one of those powerful up lights pointing toward the heavens. Great idea! “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia”. Sounds like an idea whose time has finally come.

While I am of the mind to keep the carving, by no means should that be viewed as a “save the mountain” effort. Let’s be very clear, I don’t want to save THAT Mountain. I’d rather, fix it.

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