Kemp taps first Black chairman of Stone Mountain Memorial Association

Rev. Abraham Mosley, center, poses for a photo after being sworn in as the new board chair for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, right, and memorial association CEO Bill Stephens, left, were also present. GREG BLUESTEIN / GREG.BLUESTEIN@AJC.COM
Rev. Abraham Mosley, center, poses for a photo after being sworn in as the new board chair for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, right, and memorial association CEO Bill Stephens, left, were also present. GREG BLUESTEIN / GREG.BLUESTEIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Rev. Abraham Mosley stresses patience in addressing park’s Confederate imagery

An African-American man will lead the board that decides how Stone Mountain Park — and the world’s largest Confederate monument — move into the future.

The Rev. Abraham Mosley, a well-known community advocate and pastor from Athens, was quietly sworn in this week as the new chairman of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association’s board of directors. He becomes the first Black person to hold the position in the state authority’s more than six-decade history.

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Mosley at a time when systemic racism and Civil War monuments are at the forefront of the national discourse, and when calls for change to Stone Mountain Park’s ubiquitous Confederate imagery are at a fever pitch.

ExplorePHOTOS: Confederate memorials in metro Atlanta

As he made things official during a small Tuesday morning ceremony, the governor charged Mosley to follow his moral compass while considering such changes — which could be put on the table as soon as next week.

Mosley, who has pastored Athens’ Mount Pleasant Baptist Church since 1974, said he plans to take a measured approach but will do all he can “to move the ball forward.”

“Certainly, there are mounting problems that have been brought before us. But we’ve got to handle them one at a time,” Mosley said. “We’ve got to be patient. I don’t want to be the man who prayed, ‘Lord, give me patience, but give it to me right now.’”

ExplorePHOTOS: Confederate imagery at Stone Mountain Park

In addition to the massive mountainside carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, Stone Mountain Park is home to streets, buildings, flags and many other smaller attractions that pay tribute to the Confederacy. The mountain was also the birthplace of the second Ku Klux Klan.

Demands for change are nothing new.

But last summer’s nationwide protests over police killings of Black men and systemic racism — as well as white supremacists, militia groups and others frequently using the mountain as a rallying point — reignited the debate.

A grassroots group called the Stone Mountain Action Coalition has for months pushed for a comprehensive transformation of the park to make it more welcoming to diverse visitors.

The group said this week it was encouraged by Mosley’s appointment.

“It is our hope,” the group said in an emailed statement, “that the appointment ... is the first of many changes at this public park that will result in the immediate and complete removal of symbols, monuments, flags, street, place and building names, events and activities that honor and celebrate the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan.”

Georgia law mandates that the memorial association maintain a tribute to the Confederacy at Stone Mountain Park, and otherwise makes it difficult to remove or alter such monuments. Memorial association leaders, including now-former board chair Ray Stallings Smith III, have long been resistant to any significant modifications.

That could be changing.

April 20, 2021 Stone Mountain - Aerial photograph shows Confederate Memorial Carving at Stone Mountain Park on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
April 20, 2021 Stone Mountain - Aerial photograph shows Confederate Memorial Carving at Stone Mountain Park on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The memorial association board hasn’t met since November, when it tasked CEO Bill Stephens with exploring options that would “bring Stone Mountain Park into the 21st century.”

The board is now scheduled to meet Monday afternoon. A recently posted agenda for the meeting includes time for Stephens to deliver “remarks and [a] presentation.”

Few specifics have been confirmed publicly, but state Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Democrat whose district includes Stone Mountain Park, said he expects “some of their goals and some of their aspirations” to be outlined during the meeting.

“Reverend Mosley is a good man who is not afraid to take on challenging situations,” Stephens said in a statement provided to the AJC. “The decisions made in the next few months are crucial to the future of the park. We look forward to working with him as we take on the hard issues and tough choices ahead.”

Any proposals brought forth by Stephens would require approval by the full board.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond was appointed to the memorial association’s board in 2017. He left after about a year but, as a native of Athens, has known Mosley for more than four decades.

Thurmond said he has “great confidence” in Mosley as a person, and is hopeful that his appointment “is a signal that the governor and the board is ready to move in a more inclusive direction.”

At the same time, Thurmond was disappointed that another memorial association board member — Gregory Levett Sr., the well-known funeral home operator across metro Atlanta — was denied another term.

Levett had been the most outspoken supporter of changes at Stone Mountain Park and backed many of the proposals brought forth by the Stone Mountain Action Coalition. He told the AJC that he believes that was “100%” what precipitated the call last week telling him his services were no longer needed.

Levett is Black as is his replacement, East Metro CID executive director Christopher Sanders. The latter was sworn in alongside Mosley on Tuesday.

“He’s going to need the board of directors’ support,” Levett said of the new chair. “He can’t do nothing if they don’t support him. And if they keep that same attitude, nothing’s going to change.”

Kemp, meanwhile, said Mosley would “bring a lot of cohesion to the association and, really, to the state.”

“It’s important that we really look to our future and move forward in the right way,” the governor said. “And he’ll be the right leader to do that.”

TIMELINE: History of Stone Mountain and Stone Mountain Park

  • 1915

    The founding of the second Ku Klux Klan takes place at Stone Mountain, when a handful of founders burn a cross on top of the mountain.

  • 1916

    Sam Venable, a Klan-affiliated businessman who owns the mountain and operates it as a granite quarry, leases its north face to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

  • 1923

    Carving starts on the massive mountainside tribute to Confederate leaders. Gutzon Borglum – a reputed white supremacist who would go on to work on Mount Rushmore – is the original sculptor.

  • 1925

    Borglum leaves after about two years, with only the head of Gen. Robert E. Lee completed. Work continues for a time but is ultimately halted by financial issues.

  • 1941

    Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge forms the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, but efforts at resuming the carving are thwarted by World War II.

  • 1958

    With Brown v. Board of Education recently decided and the Civil Rights Movement looming, the state of Georgia purchases Stone Mountain for about $2 million. The memorial association becomes a state authority tasked with maintaining a monument to the Confederacy. Carving resumes.

  • 1965

    Stone Mountain Park officially opens, on the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

  • 1970

    The carving of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee is dedicated. The sculpture itself measures 190 feet across 90 feet tall, with a carved-out backdrop covering about three acres.

  • 1983

    Stone Mountain Park hosts its first laser show.

  • 1983

    Stone Mountain Park hosts its first laser show.

  • 1998

    The park's money-generating attractions are privatized, as the state partners with Silver Dollar City, an arm of Herschend Family Entertainment.

  • 2019

    Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signs new law increasing protections for Confederate monuments.

  • 2020

    The deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police – and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of white neighbors in Brunswick, Ga. – spark nationwide protests. Attention again turns to Confederate monuments; many across the country, and in nearby Decatur, are taken down. An activist group called the Stone Mountain Action Coalition and others launch a new push for dramatic changes to the Confederate imagery at Stone Mountain Park.

  • 2021

    Rev. Abraham Mosley, a pastor from Athens, becomes the first Black chairman of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association.

More about Rev. Abraham Mosley:

Mosley is a native of Sparta, a small town about 100 miles southeast of Atlanta. A father of four, grandfather of eight and well-known community advocate, he has pastored Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Athens since 1974. He was first appointed to the board of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association in 2019.

Story so far:

The conversation over Confederate imagery at Stone Mountain Park reignited last summer amid protests over systemic racism and police killings of Black Americans. Activists have pushed the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to make dramatic changes at the park, including changing street names, removing Confederate flags and addressing the massive mountainside carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Officials previously said “additions” are more likely than subtractions, but significant proposals could be revealed at the memorial association’s April 26 meeting.

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