STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. (AP) – A park near Atlanta with a giant carving by Confederate leaders would publicly acknowledge that it is a hangout for the Ku Klux Klan, moving the Confederate flags and carving accordingly removing proposals from its logo on Monday, addressing criticism of its Confederate heritage.
Bill Stephens, CEO of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, put the proposals to the park board, saying Stone Mountain needed to be changed to remain financially viable but could not “break” the story. The board did not immediately vote on any of them.
A popular walking and tourist destination, 25 kilometers northeast of downtown Atlanta, the park features numerous Confederate imagery, including a colossal sculpture of General Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and General Thomas J. “Stonewall Jackson.” the north face of the mountain. It is the largest Confederate monument ever built.
The proposals come from a national reckoning on races that destroyed dozen of Confederate monuments in just a few weeks last year. Some speakers at Monday’s meeting said the changes in front of the board had not gone far enough.
Many of the now controversial Confederate monuments were erected by groups of women and veterans in the early 20th century. Some honor generals or soldiers; others bear inscriptions that critics say falsely gloss over slavery as a ground for war or portray the Confederate cause as noble. Stone Mountain carving, 58 meters in diameter and 27 meters high, was completed in 1972 and depicts the three Confederate leaders riding on horseback.
The Confederation celebration in the park is used to “suppress people,” said Bona Allen of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition grassroots group.
“You, this board of directors, have a responsibility to the citizens of Georgia – all citizens of Georgia – to do what is right at the moment,” he said. “You have the authority, you have the ability, you have the obligation to remove these symbols immediately. “
The coalition proposed last year that the association remove the Confederate flags at the base of the mountain, change the names of streets and other park features with Confederate memberships, and focus the park on issues such as racial reconciliation and justice. Meymoona Freeman, a leader of the group, said she wanted to see the carvings of Lee, Davis and Jackson transform into a natural space.
The sculpture has special protection enshrined in Georgian law, and Stephens said it wasn’t going anywhere.
Martin O’Toole, a lawyer, said the law required Stone Mountain to serve as a memorial for the confederation.
“It’s not the purpose of contextualizing it,” he said. “It’s not the purpose of talking about the Ku Klux Klan or anything like this.”
The proposals also call for the creation of a new museum exhibition in the park to describe the history of carving and the consolidation of artifacts and monuments related to the Confederation in one place. Streets and paths would be renamed, but none that currently have Confederate names.
Stephens said the proposals would not satisfy everyone, but he called them a “middle ground of common sense.” The park has lost corporate sponsors and revenue has decreased, he said.
“Economically, we cannot stay as we are,” he said. “Change is inevitable. We can either take responsibility for it or let it define us.”
The board could vote on at least some of the proposals next month. Governor Brian Kemp named the first African American chairman of the board last week – Rev. Abraham Mosley.
Mosley said after the meeting that he supported the proposals but wanted to see more changes.
“I think this is a first step towards many of the good things that can be heard in Stone Mountain Park. It will only be some time before we get there. “