On Cross Burnings and Stone Mountain

Recently I came across this image featured on a Confederate heritage Facebook site:
CSA BF cross
The cross, of course, is a powerful image, especially on a week such as this one on the Christian calendar. Then again, so is this:
cross burning 1989 Stone MountainThe practice of cross burning by the Ku Klux Klan is a case of life imitating art. The Reconstruction KKK did not practice cross burning. Rather, the idea first appeared in Thomas Dixon’s 1905 book about the Reconstruction KKK, The Clansman:
Dixon fiery crossDixon’s book was made even popular a decade later with the release of the film Birth of a Nation:
Birth burning cross
Later that year, when Leo Frank was captured and accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a group of viligantes, modeling themselves on the Reconstruction KKK, seized Frank from prison and lynched him on August 17, 1915. Several months later, on November 25, 1915, these self-styled “Knights of Mary Phagan” met atop Stone Mountain, Georgia, where they burned a cross to mark the refounding of the KKK. The practice soon became a trademark of the KKK, which, unlike its Reconstruction namesake, became a national organization, so cross-burning was not limited to the South.

Nevertheless, it would be Stone Mountain where the first cross burning by the KKK took place. Present at the event was the grandson of Nathan Bedford Forrest. The man who owned Stone Mountain, Samuel Venable, soon granted the KKK access to the mountain, which became a popular site for cross burnings.

This video was reportedly taken at Stone Mountain, Georgia (as opposed to the state park) in 2009:


In 1916 the effort to mark the face of Stone Mountain with a massive carving of Confederate leaders commenced. The original design looked like this:
Stone Mountain original designAfter some delays, in 1923 fundraising began in earnest to mark Stone Mountain as a focal point of Confederate heritage; the federal government assisted the effort by minting a Stone Mountain half dollar in 1924:
Lee Jackson Stone Mountain coin
However, it was the United Daughters of the Confederacy that took the lead in providing for the memorial, although the Klan had input into the design as well. The original sculptor, Gutzon Birglum, better known for his work on Mount Rushmore (as well as the statue of Phil Sheridan at Washington’s Sheridan Circle), was a Klansman, but that proved insufficient motivation, and he quit the project in 1925. After three more years the project ground to a halt, and not until 1964 did work resume. By that time the state of Georgia had purchased the site, ejecting the KKK from further involvement.

In 1970 the United States Postal Service issued a stamp featuring the monument:
Stone Mt StampOne wonders whether today’s visitors to Stone Mountain realize the site’s history, especially the role that the KKK played in making the site a modern-day Confederate shrine … including these recent visitors:

Karen Cooper and Susan Hathaway
Karen Cooper and Susan Hathaway
Billy Bearden
Billy Bearden

39 thoughts on “On Cross Burnings and Stone Mountain

  1. Brad April 15, 2014 / 2:16 pm

    Unbelievable. Imagine having federal involvement with a memorial to those traitors.

    • Christopher Shelley April 16, 2014 / 11:31 am

      I thought the same thing. It reinforces the notion that not merely “the North,” but the federal government itself, that was complicit in the “Lost Cause” myth.

    • Steve April 19, 2014 / 7:19 pm

      Were these men any more traitors than the minutmen who fought for the independence of America? Why was not one Southern individual not tried for treason?

  2. Noma April 15, 2014 / 3:03 pm

    A grim compilation of documentation. You never know how far the revival of some hellish cult will go.

    ********************

    On a slightly different topic, I note your comment:

    “After some delays, in 1923 fundraising began in earnest to mark Stone Mountain as a focal point of Confederate heritage; the federal government assisted the effort by minting a Stone Mountain half dollar in 1924.”

    In some ways, the period right after the 1922 dedication of the Grant Memorial in Washington seems to mark a very important revival of the Lost Cause — along with the corresponding trashing of Grant’s reputation.

    Do we know any particular reason for that. I think that it was also about this time that Calvin Coolidge paid tribute to the Confederate soldiers in a ceremony at Arlington.

    What was the broader historical context for the rise of the Lost Cause and the decline of Grant’s reputation in the decade of the 1920’s?

    • Joshism April 17, 2014 / 9:07 pm

      “What was the broader historical context for the rise of the Lost Cause and the decline of Grant’s reputation in the decade of the 1920′s?”

      The decline of Grant is simply I think because he was the obvious target for the Lost Cause.

      There was a Red Scare in 1919 and isolationism that began building after WW1 and would continue until WW2. Also by the 1920s most of the Civil War vets were dead.

  3. Betty Giragosian April 15, 2014 / 3:06 pm

    Brooks. Bernard Baruch, the great American statesman, purchased a large quantity of the Stone Mountain coins. He later gave the collection of coins to the United Daughters of the
    Confederacy in memory of his mother, Mrs. Simon Baruch. Mrs. Baruch was a native of Charleston, and her husband, Dr. Simon Baruch was a surgeon in the Confederate Army. She was a prominent member of the UDC. An award of $2,000.00 was established in her honor, and named for her-The Mrs. Simon Baruch University Award. tt is a grant-in-aid for publication, awarded biennially in even numbered years for the purpose of encouraging research in Southern history
    The organization will sell a limited number to number to members from time to time. When our headquarters were completed over 50 years ago, we purchased our PA system with funds from the sale some of the Stone Mountain Coins. It is an amazing landmark, one that draws many visitors each year, I have only seen it from a window in an airplane, probably the best view..
    Yes, it would seem that Georgia and the UDC thew out the KKK. I should certainly think that is to their credit. I hope that Mount Rushmore is not destroyed because the sculptor was in the KKK. , or that visitors will be thinking about that when they view the marvelous sculpture.

  4. Michael Rodgers April 15, 2014 / 3:36 pm

    I grew up in the next town over from Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain Park is a wonderful place to hike and swim, etc. One highlight is the laser show. Here’s a youtube clip from somebody. I love at 5:25 in the video when the broken sword becomes the north and south rejoining with Elvis singing, “Glory glory hallelujah.”
    BTW, I always assumed/believed falsely that Grant, not Davis, was up there on the mountain with Lee and Jackson. When I finally learned a few years ago that a lot of people consider Stone Mountain as the Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy, well, it still seems strange to me. It was the state park I went to to play, and they have that great laser show.

  5. thefreerev April 15, 2014 / 3:36 pm

    I was at Stone Mountain with my family last summer and thought of Dr. King’s words while my children ran in the field under the monument with “little black boys and little black girls.”

    “I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia!”

    • Betty Giragosian April 15, 2014 / 4:17 pm

      Happily, thefreerev, that day has arrived. I have seen with my own eyes young people of all colors studying together, playing together, joining in sports together, learning to be good citizens together. Dr. King’s speech is surely one of the most inspiring ever given, and one that will live forever.

  6. Charles Lovejoy April 15, 2014 / 4:09 pm

    Just between us, some learned in the occult believe that Forrest was an occultist. (Keep this just between us on this blog.) Far as Stone Mountain, I grew up in the Metro-Atlanta area. Most look at it as a park with a carving on the mountain. Now days most people don’t make a big deal out of the carving one way or the other. Any monument can bring those that differ, Mount Rushmore is very offensive to many Native Americans. That’s the way any historical site or monument tends to be. People have many interruptions of historical events and places. My thinking is, give each group their space to interrupt historical events as they see.

  7. Charles Lovejoy April 15, 2014 / 4:15 pm

    I will add ,being part of the Avant Guard art and music seen many years , I have never had a problem pushing the envelope. Art is to bring about a reaction and conjure emotion. If such a carving does that, it is doing what art should do. Every thing can’t always be intellectualized, the intellect is only part.

  8. Rob Baker April 15, 2014 / 7:54 pm

    Brooks, I think the video of the cross burning is from the town or area known as Stone Mountain, GA and not the actual mountain itself. The mountain today, as it has been for decades, is a state owned tourist attraction. Most people there do not really think of the Civil War or the issues of slavery. They go for commercial entertainment and, as Michael said above, to hike, picnic and see the laser show. If you’ve read Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz’s description is fairly accurate. The morons running around atop the mountain with their flags would have been a disruption to the tourism of the majority of the people there.

      • Rob Baker April 16, 2014 / 4:24 am

        http://www.stonemountainpark.com/

        It is interesting that certain Heritage groups would quite literally drape the flag over the cross. Given the group’s antisemitism, it is likely they might have hanged the young carpenter.

    • Charles Lovejoy April 16, 2014 / 7:56 am

      Rob, I have been there many times, I see people from all walks of life. Went there several years ago with a group I was working with for a cook out, was a mixture of Asian, Black ,White and a gay couple. No body even brought up the carving or civil war.

      • Rob Baker April 16, 2014 / 8:12 am

        Charles,

        Absolutely. The last time I was there was about two years ago. It was a part of a Robert Hodgesque Civil Wargasm. I noticed much of what you stated. Numerous ethnic groups came for the attractions, rides, picnics, entertainment and of course, the laser show. The laser show was revamped recently. It has a little bit for everybody. The aspects of that show that deal with the war, is more of a reconciliation prose. It includes bits about slavery and Civil Rights, but the apex of the show is Lee’s broken sword turning into the two halves of the nation (North and South) and forging together which always gets applause.

        I wonder if the all of this has something to do with the Summer Olympics in 1996. There was a de-Confederaizing of the area for the event. Something that might be worth looking into.

        • Charles Lovejoy April 16, 2014 / 7:54 pm

          I don’t think so, Civil War history and Confederate history goes only so far. It can become redundant with a lot of people that only have a passing interest. Most I know only want a general idea or and over all view on a lot of these Civil War related subjects.

  9. Matt McKeon April 15, 2014 / 8:01 pm

    Jon Ronson, in his book on extremist groups “Them” described a meeting of a KKK group that featured a cross burning. They had trouble getting it to ignite. “It’s a cross lighting, not a cross burning” says one hooded member crossly, as they struggle with the heavy cross and cans of kerosene. You’d think they would have the hang of burning, or lighting a cross by now, Ronson muses.

  10. neukomment April 16, 2014 / 4:21 am

    The KKK and “Lost Cause” appropriation of the symbol of the cross for such uses is, IMHO, a contradiction of everything the cross has ment in Christian theology and tradition over the past 2,000 years…

  11. Andy Hall April 16, 2014 / 7:47 am

    Present-day southerners who feel unfairly associated with the Klan often point out that in the early 20th century, the group drew some of its highest levels of membership in the Midwest, in states that had been Union states during the Civil War. That’s true as far as it goes, but the UCV, UDC and SCV of that era were all wrapped up in nostalgia for the old, Reconstruction-era Klan, that played a big role in setting the tone for its resurgence and played right into the hands of the new incarnation of the group, seeking to promote itself as a continuation of the old one from 50 years before. If you look at old issues of the Confederate Veteran magazine from 1915-1917 — when, importantly, it was the official magazine for all three of those groups — it’s full of Klan-related material. There were special screenings of Birth of a Nation set up at UCV reunions, the UDC and SCV endorsed and partnered to distribute Mrs. Rose’s history of the Klan “and its great leader, Nathan Bedford Forrest.” In the early 1920s, when Stone Mountain’s carvings were being done, the general’s grandson, NBF II, served simultaneously as the General Secretary of the SCV and the head of the Klan in Georgia. His day job was as an official at Lanier University, a school briefly owned and operated by the Klan.

    Believe me, I understand why members of the UDC and SCV today want to disassociate themselves from the Klan. But folks in those groups also need to acknowledge that the Klan (in either of its incarnations) was not always an anathema to earlier generations of members, and there are plenty of examples where they actively embraced them.

    • Rob Baker April 16, 2014 / 8:43 am

      NBF II, served simultaneously as the General Secretary of the SCV and the head of the Klan in Georgia. His day job was as an official at Lanier University, a school briefly owned and operated by the Klan.

      Briefly is right, less than a year I believe. Ironically, today the only building of the University serves as a synagogue.

  12. Will Hickox April 16, 2014 / 8:53 am

    Of course, the federal minting of half dollar coins in 1924 to help fund the Stone Mountain project was countered by massive protests by Confederate heritage advocates, who resented this heavy-handed intrusion of national authority into their efforts to honor their ancestors who had fought for “states’ rights”…

    Just as those same ancestors had bitterly protested the federal government’s heavy-handed intrusion into their affairs with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

    • Noma April 16, 2014 / 10:48 am

      Ha!

  13. Ethan April 17, 2014 / 6:15 am

    Scum! Scum! Scum! Go back to where you from! The cross won’t burn; nobody home. Hell, it ain’t like it used to be.

  14. Joshism April 17, 2014 / 9:10 pm

    The revitalization of the Klan because of “Birth of a Nation” reminds me of the Mafia reinventing themselves because of “The Godfather”

  15. Rob Baker April 19, 2014 / 8:25 am

    I took a look at the photo album from the Stone Mountain days. It is interesting that the rhetoric out of the VA Flaggers is “Heritage not Hate,” “Honor the Ancestors” etc. etc. Yet, in those protests they stand with people like Billy Bearden, and some ridiculous reenacting unit that carried around the 1956 GA state flag. A flag which no longer sits over the top of any government building. A flag which was designed from hatred, to be used as a symbol of rebellion against a the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. You know, the one that declared segregation illegal and instituted equality. It’s ‘heritage’ alright, the heritage of racism.

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 19, 2014 / 9:31 am

      And yet someone thinks that to circulate images shared by these people is to set them up for violence. I guess Judy Smith will be accused of mass murder.

      There is only one person who has fantasized about acts of violence against Confederate heritage advocates … and that is so she can sell a still unwritten book.

      • Rob Baker April 19, 2014 / 8:54 pm

        Bless her heart. Connie has decided to post a rebuttal to my previous statement about the Georgia flag. She links to an article from Steve Scroggins to make the case for her. Scroggins’s article is a rebuttal to a column in the University of Alabama student newspaper, which described the Confederate Battle Flag as a hate symbol. The website Connie links to, the Georgia Heritage Council, is a sad example of Lost Cause rhetoric. Scrogging uses DiLorenzo as his main source (a historical author whose every book has been rejected). Poor Connie though, nothing in the article she links to actually mentions the 1956 Georgia flag. instead, it gives the same watered down comments about the Confederate Flag heard time and time again.

          • John Foskett April 22, 2014 / 6:10 am

            Actually, she was doing the best she can. Nobody who cites DiLorenzo, directly or indirectly, is doing the best he/she can.

  16. Betty Giragosian April 19, 2014 / 12:08 pm

    Mr. Baker, the Confederate Battle Flag was not designed from hatred , to be used as a a symbol of rebellion towards the court’s ruling against segregation. It was wrongly used for that purpose by certain people who would not accept integration.

    • Andy Hall April 20, 2014 / 9:06 am

      The Confederate Battle Flag also was designed by William Porcher Miles explicitly to avoid a religious symbolism, but that seems to have been forgotten by a great many True Southrons today.

      • Rob Baker April 21, 2014 / 7:54 pm

        What is funny is the apologist arguments that Miles designed the flag to avoid religious tensions. Coski addresses this argument in his book. It’s funny how some will attempt to state claims without the proper context. The “St. Andrew’s” design held no esteemed position in the antebellum South and many political leaders scoffed at the flag when it was first proposed.

    • Rob Baker April 21, 2014 / 1:10 pm

      I would agree with you about the Confederate Battle Flag Betty, but I’m not talking about the Confederate Battle Flag. I’m talking about the 1956 Georgia State Flag and subsequent uses of that flag by the southern political elite. Which, in reality, began as early as 1948 with the ‘States Rights Democratic Party’ (Dixiecrats). Political leaders of the South, with the support of many living in the South, supported this “states’ rights’ resistance to Civil Rights legislation and desegregation. They adopted the use of the flag, like so many others were at the time. It wasn’t “wrongly used for that purpose by certain people who would not accept integration.” It was “wrongly used” by a lot of people, who knew exactly what they were doing when they adopted that flag as a symbol of resistance in terms of race and state authority.

      • Betty Giragosian April 21, 2014 / 5:18 pm

        Agreed.

    • Andy Hall February 8, 2015 / 8:55 pm

      General K. Steven Monk
      Confederate States Militia, Commanding

      What is it with these people and their make-believe armies?

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