Recently I came across this image featured on a Confederate heritage Facebook site:
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:
The 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’s book was made even popular a decade later with the release of the film Birth of a Nation:
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:
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:
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:
One 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: