Stone Mountain, Georgia, is many things to many people, but one cannot dispute that it is a place that celebrates Confederate heritage. Sometimes the connection might make some people feel uneasy (not so for others). Nor is it the first time the Confederate carvings there have been the subject of controversy. But here we are again, as people discuss what to do with Stone Mountain … if anything.
I think Stone Mountain is amusing, but then again I find most representations of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson outside of Virginia (and, in Jackson’s case, West Virginia) to be amusing. Aside from a short period in 1861/62 when Lee was placed in charge of the coastal defense of South Carolina and Georgia, neither general stepped foot in Georgia during the war. Lee cut off furloughs to Georgia’s soldiers later in the war because he was convinced that once home they’d never come back. He resisted the dispatch of James Longstreet’s two divisions westward to defend northern Georgia, and he had no answer when Sherman operated in the state. It would be better to see Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood on the mountain, although it probably would have been difficult to get those two men to ride together. Maybe Braxton Bragg would have been a better pick, but no one calls him the hero of Chickamauga. Yet Bragg, Johnston, and Hood all attempted to defend Georgia, and they are ignored on Stone Mountain. So is Joe Wheeler, whose cavalry feasted off Georgians in 1864; so is John B. Gordon, wartime hero and postwar Klansman (given Stone Mountain’s history, Klansman Gordon would have been a good choice).
It’s also amusing to see Jefferson Davis represented. Yes, Davis came to Georgia, once to try to settle disputes within the high command of the Army of Tennessee (not a rousing success) and once to rally white Georgians to the cause once more after the fall of Atlanta. But any serious student of the war knows that Davis spent much of his presidency arguing with Georgia governor Joseph Brown about Georgia’s contribution to the Confederate war effort, and that the vice president of the Confederacy, Georgia’s own Alexander Hamilton Stephens, was not a big supporter of his superior. Yet we don’t see Brown or Stephens on Stone Mountain, either.
What we see on Stone Mountain, in short, is a fabricated representation of Confederate unity, harmony, and success, when in fact the real story of Georgia’s Confederate years suggests otherwise.
Currently people are discussing several courses of action concerning the carvings on Stone Mountain. One, of course, is to retain the status quo. At the opposite extreme is a proposal to eliminate the carvings of Davis, Lee, and Jackson. One group proposed adding Outkast to the mountainside.
Who’s Outkast, you ask?
I can see playing this back-to-back with “Dixie,” can’t you?
More interesting is a proposal to add more icons of Georgia and Southern heritage to the mountainside. Figures suggested include Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King, Jr. As King shares a January holiday with Lee and Jackson in several states, there’s no good objection to extend that to Stone Mountain, right?
At the heart of this proposal, folks, is a very simple question: is southern heritage more than simply Confederate heritage? When some people claim they are defending southern heritage, aren’t they really just defending Confederate heritage, and reducing the history of the South to a short period of time?
By the way, there’s the usual debate over the display of Confederate flags, too.
It will be interesting to see how this discussion plays out.