The Stone Mountain pushback: Lawmaker says the Klan ‘made a lot of people straighten up’

Last summer, in the wake of the church massacre in Charleston, S.C., Georgia experienced a great deal of soul-searching when it came to Confederate symbolism at state-owned, privately operated Stone Mountain Park.

State Rep. LaDawn Jones, D-Atlanta, has introduced HB 760, which would require Stone Mountain, now designated as a Confederate memorial, to also address other aspects of the Civil War as well. Maybe a peculiar institution or two.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, has introduced SB 294, which would forbid the state from formally recognizing holidays in honor of the Confederacy or its leaders.

Neither bill has a bright future. Nonetheless, the pushback has begun. Our AJC colleague Chris Joyner notes legislation introduced by state Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, a retired middle-school history teacher:

For years he’s pushed legislation that would protect the state’s historical monuments from being marred or moved. This year he is stepping up his efforts with two newly introduced measures, one of which seeks to amend the state constitution to permanently protect the carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at Stone Mountain.

House Resolution 1179, which Benton, R-Jefferson, dropped in the House “hopper” Wednesday, assures that the “heroes of the Confederate States of America … shall never been altered, removed, concealed or obscured in any fashion and shall be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.”

It also requires the park around the mountain to be kept as “an appropriate and suitable memorial for the Confederacy.”

…Benton also is behind a second bill, House Bill 855, requiring the state to formally recognize Lee’s birthday on Jan. 19 and Confederate Memorial Day on April 26. State employees have long received these as paid vacation days, but this year Gov. Nathan Deal had them listed on state calendars as generic holidays.

Benton said the latter bill was a direct response to Fort’s legislation. The Republican made other points as well, but his remarks about the Ku Klux Klan in Reconstruction-era Georgia stand out:

Benton said there are two sides to that story as well. Following the Civil War, the Klan “was not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order,” he said.

“It made a lot of people straighten up,” he said. “I’m not saying what they did was right. It’s just the way things were.”

Ah, yes. The members of the Klan were merely the guidance counselors of their day. We'll make another prediction. Benton's legislation will also go nowhere.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.