Following the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina’s State House grounds, the next battleground in the debate over racially charged Civil War symbols may be Stone Mountain, a historic site and tourist attraction northeast of Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city.
The mountain is actually a massive rock outcropping, 825 feet high, whose north face contains a bas-relief carving of Confederate heroes Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
The Atlanta branch of the NAACP is calling for the immediate removal of all Confederate symbols from Stone Mountain Park, state-owned property that also houses a Civil War museum, hiking trails and other attractions.
Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, said the carving and surrounding depictions of the Civil War offer a false narrative and have no place on public property.
“That carving is a great piece of art, but it was commissioned out of hate and white supremacy,” Rose said. “The state should not be supporting or condoning white supremacy with my tax dollars.”
The request is part of the chapter’s call to take down all signs of the Confederacy at Georgia-owned properties.
But John Bankhead, spokesman for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which maintains the park, said the property is self-sufficient. Park maintenance and operations are covered by revenues, not tax dollars, he said.
The Georgia legislature formed the SMMA after the state purchased the park and its surrounding land in 1958.
In addition, changes to the park must be approved by the state government, Bankhead said.
“This park is protected by the law,” he told CNN. “The decision has to be made by the legislature for any changes to be made here.”
A Confederate battle flag — the same type removed by South Carolina — flies at the park. Someone stole it last week, although the flag was quickly replaced.
Bankhead said there is no reason to remove the flag since the park is designed as a memorial.
“This is set up by Georgia law as a museum for the Confederacy,” he said.
But Rose takes issue with characterizing the park as a museum. He said the carving — which is 200 feet tall and larger than Mount Rushmore — was done to support what the Confederacy stood for. The accompanying museum offers a false history by diminishing slavery’s role while claiming the Civil War was mainly about states’ rights, he said.
“The assumption that there is a historical context is fallacious,” he said. “What should happen is to tell the whole story and not this revisionist history about what the war was about.”
The museum and mountain are only part of the draw for the more than 4 million visitors to Stone Mountain each year. One of Georgia’s biggest tourist attractions, it also offers an adventure course, a laser light show and a tram ride to the summit. These are run privately by a contractor, Herschend Family Entertainment.
Success as a tourist attraction has not overshadowed the mountain’s dark history, though.
A century ago, Stone Mountain was the site of the 20th century revival of the Ku Klux Klan. A small group of Klan members climbed to the top of the mountain in 1915 and burned a cross.
Martin Luther King Jr. later referenced the mountain in his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he said, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”
Rose, the NAACP chapter president, said that Georgia’s ownership of this property is part of government-sponsored hate, not history. These depictions only further divide the nation and are why such symbols should be removed, he said.
“The part of continuing the notion of white supremacy must change,” he said. “At some point, we must be one country.”