Stone Mountain Park board approves truth-telling exhibit, moving flags

April 20, 2021 Stone Mountain - Park goers walk around Valor Park were Statue of Valor is located at Stone Mountain Park on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
April 20, 2021 Stone Mountain - Park goers walk around Valor Park were Statue of Valor is located at Stone Mountain Park on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A modicum of change is coming to Stone Mountain Park.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association board on Monday approved a handful of resolutions that it hopes will help soften the image of the world’s largest Confederate monument — and, perhaps, get the park out of a looming economic bind.

The adopted resolutions included giving the go-ahead for a new on-site museum exhibit that officials say would aim to “tell the truth” about the ugly history of the park and the mountainside carving of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

ExploreWhat 'telling the truth' about Stone Mountain might look like

The board also approved relocating a Confederate flag plaza from the mountain’s walk-up trail. The flags, which were erected in the 1960s by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, would be moved to Valor Park — an area near the base of the mountain that already hosts a number of other tributes to the Civil War South.

Georgia law prohibits the flags from being removed entirely, but officials said the move would keep them off the park’s most heavily trafficked area.

The logo for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association itself, which currently including a rendering of the carving, will change as well.

“We’re just taking our first step today, to get where we need to go,” said Rev. Abraham Mosley, who became the memorial association’s first Black board chairman when he was appointed last month.

ExploreCoverage of the issues around Stone Mountain's Confederate imagery

Memorial association CEO Bill Stephens called the changes the “most dramatic move forward” since the park opened in the ‘60s. That’s likely true, and the fact that they were even on the table marks a significant shift in the memorial association’s approach to the mountain.

But activists who have spent years calling for a reckoning at Stone Mountain hope there’s a lot more to come.

The changes approved Monday do not include renaming streets in the park that bear the names of Confederate leaders or altering or removing the carving itself, which many activists have pushed for.

“We want you to take what you have, clean it up, and let’s move on,” former DeKalb NAACP chairman John Evans said, calling for the carving to be removed and street names changed. “We’re just not gonna accept anything less than that.”

ExplorePHOTOS: Confederate imagery at Stone Mountain Park

Other initiatives previously pitched by Stephens — including renaming the park’s Confederate Hall building — were not addressed during Monday’s meeting but aren’t being abandoned, Stephens said.

Under the resolution adopted Monday, the chair and vice chair of the memorial association board would appoint seven members to an advisory committee that will help shape the new museum exhibit contextualizing the carving.

Stephens said he envisions a committee of community leaders, local residents and historians. The adopted resolution anticipates it would be active for one year, starting July 1.

“We want to have the makeup of the community involved with those seven that we select,” said Mosley.

ExplorePhotos: Confederate memorials in metro Atlanta

The carving was started in the Jim Crow era and, like other Confederate monuments from that time, was intended to glorify white supremacy, historians recently told the AJC. Members of the second Ku Klux Klan, which was reborn on Stone Mountain in 1915, also had a role in the carving’s conception.

Foiled by financial issues and personal spats, the carving was abandoned in late 1920s. Work didn’t resume until after the state of Georgia bought the mountain in 1958.

Historians said the purchase was largely a reaction to federally mandated school integration and the Civil Rights movement.

The mostly completed carving was dedicated in 1970, more than a century after the end of the Civil War.

“We’re gonna tell that story,” Stephens said.

Dennis Collard is a co-founder of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition, a grassroots group that has called for change at the park since its formation last summer.

“It is time to stop pretending that this place is about heritage,” he said.

Financial concerns

Officials admit the changes currently being considered at the park are largely driven by financial concerns.

Marriott purportedly plans to pull out of operating the park’s primary hotel and convention center. And Herschend Family Entertainment, which has operated the park’s revenue-generating attractions since they were privatized in 1998, plans to leave next summer.

Herschend, a Norcross-based company, cited both COVID-19 and frequent clashes between Confederate groups, far right extremists and counter-protesters as reasons for ending their partnership with the park.

Stephens said he has spoken with several companies about taking over Herschend’s role and all said that “the Confederacy issue” needs to be addressed before they would consider doing so.

“I think these were necessary steps to be able to say to people who would do business with us, that we want to tell the truth, tell the whole story,” Stephens said Monday. “We’re limited on what we can do and can’t do, but we’re gonna take action where we can. And I hope it makes a difference.”


WHAT THE STONE MOUNTAIN MEMORIAL ASSOCIATION VOTED ON

  • Approved plans to create an on-site museum exhibit explaining the full history of Stone Mountain Park and the carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
  • Will relocate Confederate flags that have flown at base of mountain’s walk-up trail since the 1960s.
  • Will change memorial association’s logo, which currently includes an image of the carving.

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks