I see that I’ve touched a nerve by commenting on Stone Mountain and recent discussions about the portrayal of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. I’ve seen a lot of passion, but not a lot of reason, in some of the responses.
Note first that I simply reported the options being discussed. I offered no recommendations or suggestions. I happen to think that the Outkast suggestion is ridiculous, but others don’t … or they are advancing it to make a point.
Nor did I say that the face of the mountain need celebrate Georgia’s history. For example, I did not suggest a carving of one part of the Chastain family tree sending another part away on the Trail of Tears, although that, too, is part of Georgia’s history … however much someone today may wish otherwise.
As for what born and bred southerners may or may not understand, the member of the Atlanta City Council who’s behind the proposal to study the future of Stone Mountain is Michael Julian Bond, son of Julian Bond. The elder Bond was born in Tennessee; the younger Bond claims that he’s a fifth-generation Atlantan. Is there some reason someone wouldn’t consider him a born and bred southerner?
Stone Mountain is a state park featuring an amusement park. The amusement park’s ads currently show a Wild West train show this month, not exactly a way to celebrate southern heritage (unless they were doing Bleeding Kansas and the Trail of Tears, I guess). It includes a carillion from the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which I attended (clearly a sign of Yankee intrusion). I’m surprised anyone thought it was a national monument.
Finally, Stone Mountain is a historic place, but not because of the carvings on its face. It’s a historic place because of its associations with the founding of the second Ku Klux Klan. Note that the site’s defenders are silent about this. The carvings and the development of the site during the years 1915 to 1935 were as much about celebrating the KKK as it was about remembering three generals who contributed little to the defense of Georgia during the American Civil War. It draws together Confederate heritage with white supremacy.
I note that not a single critic questioned my account of Georgia and the Civil War, especially the roles played by Davis, Lee, and Jackson, or the uneasy relationship between the state and the Confederate central government. Stone Mountain’s commemoration conceals that historical reality. The best critics could muster was some sort of hysterical ranting claiming that I said Davis, Lee, and Jackson shouldn’t be there because they were not from Georgia. Read the post, people: you aren’t flattering your own intelligence. It’s Councilman Bond who wants to bring the carvings closer to Georgia’s past … its entire past … and he’s a born and bred southerner.
So what we have here is non-Georgians (outsiders) complaining about what Georgians want to do (sounds like Davis versus Joe Brown, eh?) while claiming special rights for southerners (although one claims it’s a national monument, which means I have a say, too). Here’s the harsh truth, folks: it’s southerners who are leading the way in changing how the South remembers the American Civil War. Oh, sure, there are some northern-born folks involved, but you can’t tell me that the entire state legislature of South Carolina’s a Yankee enclave … or that Memphis is run by Yankees … or that the Georgia city council is a bunch of outsiders (and who elected them? more outsiders?). These battles over Confederate heritage are being fought largely by southerners, white and black, and those who whine about outsiders are outsiders themselves when it comes to the communities involved.
The South is changing. Get used to it. You can’t celebrate the election of a governor and a senator of color in South Carolina as evidence of your region’s acceptance of diversity one moment and then call them outsiders the next. That reveals a deep hypocrisy among those people, a bankruptcy of character as well as a lack of intelligence. If, one hundred years after Stone Mountain’s emergence as a popular site due to its links with the KKK, a fifth generation southerner wants to move the site away from its associations with the founding of a terrorist group, you must attempt to engage in that discussion fairly. But if the best Confederate heritage-conscious southerners can do is to threaten people, engage in childish rants, and sell trash based on the design of the Confederate flag, I can tell you that you don’t stand a chance of prevailing, and the fault will lie within yourselves.