Sept. 23, 2015: Andrew Young talks to students at the Joseph E. Lowery Institute meeting at Clark Atlanta University. (Photo by Phil Skinner for the AJC)
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Andrew Young supports Stone Mountain tribute to King

Former mayor criticizes civil rights groups that oppose monument

It’s been less than a week since the Stone Mountain Memorial Association announced plans to build a monument honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on top of Stone Mountain. And while opposition is growing, supporters of the plan just landed a strong ally – Andrew Young.

Several black organizations — most notably the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — are strongly opposed to the plan, saying that King’s message of peace and nonviolence conflicts with Stone Mountain’s historic ties to the Confederacy.

“My understanding of Dr. King’s nonviolence movement was to create a reconciliation of races and opinions,” Young said. “[King] said, ‘Either we will learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.’ I think it is a wonderful symbolism to have a Freedom Bell on Stone Mountain that would honor Dr. King. It is not only a good idea. It is a necessary idea for this nation to pull together.”

Last Sunday, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association announced that, having secured Gov. Nathan Deal’s support, it would begin plans to build a King monument atop Stone Mountain. It would most likely be a “Freedom Bell,” based on a line in King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.”

The project would also include a museum exhibit focusing on black Civil War soldiers.

Earlier this week, SCLC leader Charles Steele and local NAACP presidents John Evans of DeKalb and Richard Rose of Atlanta, met with Deal about the project.

Their primary objective is to get all remnants of the Confederacy – from the flags to the carving of the Confederate generals – removed from the state-owned Stone Mountain.

But anticipating that that would not happen, as the Confederate symbols are protected by state law, the groups urged Deal to withdraw his support of placing the King honor.

“These frivolous criticisms are trying to one-up people,” Young said. “The civil rights movement was never about one side winning over the other. It was always about coming together.”

Very few African-Americans, aside from key politicians and the King family, were aware that Stone Mountain Memorial Association had been considering this honor for King. Young said he found out last Sunday when the rest of the world did.

While Young is clear on his opinions about the monument, two of Atlanta’s other recent Presidential Medal of Freedom winners – Joseph Lowery and C.T. Vivian — were taking a wait and see approach.

“The very truth is I have not made up my mind. I haven’t decided yet,” Vivian said. “I don’t want to create more problems than we solve.”

During the 1950s and 1960s, Young was deeply involved in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded in 1957 by King. He said while the groups, including the NAACP, have always supported him, “I gave up on them in 1970.”

Young added that the current crop of civil rights leaders have no understanding of history.

“Not a one of them ever took part in a demonstration where their lives were at risk,” Young blasted. “Not a one of them have read a book about King and the movement. They are speaking from emotions, rather than intelligence. And that is suicidal.”

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