Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams announced she wants to blast the Confederate carving off Stone Mountain.
Removing Confederate monuments from public spaces has become a white-hot issue since the deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Va. It’s the old hate-versus-heritage debate, only now the brass knuckles are out.
So Abrams, who is staking out her place in a heated Democratic primary, decided to go bold on the issue. And what bigger symbol is there than Stone Mountain? It’s the mother of all Rebel symbols. To use a “Spinal Tap” analogy, she decided to flip the volume up to 11.
Not to be left out of the debate, Republican candidate Michael Williams, who’s on the other side of the spectrum, put out a bugle call to rally his troops.
He fired off an email entitled “Save Stone Mountain!” saying he’d boldly face down the “political correctness police.”
Oh, by the way, could you also spare a few bucks for my campaign?
It's all part of the political ecosystem, and this emotional debate carries enough plankton to feed all organisms. And with an estimated 700 Confederate statues in the United States, social and political causes will be fed for years.
The statues largely popped up in the late 1800s and early 1900s, decades after the Rebs picked a fight they couldn’t win. The monuments were set up to salve the lingering shame of defeat, so (white) Southerners concocted the idea of the noble and glorious Lost Cause.
Terrance Pinckney, an administrator from Decatur who is black (as are all who I quote in this story), shrugged when I asked where he stood.
“This is very complicated,” he said. “I understand what it represents. It’s being portrayed as culture and heritage, although that culture and heritage is based in bondage.
“But I think removing it drives a deeper wedge between the communities,” he said. “I’d call it an appeasement-oriented effort instead of one achieving justice.”
James Parham smiled when I described the Lost Cause. “It’s kinda like ‘The 300,’ the brave soldiers who lost,” he said, referring to the movie where a batch of Spartans kill a zillion Persians before perishing.
Parham, a retired soldier, said, “I have a mixed reaction. We want to remove a symbol of racism. But the men of the war themselves fought for what they thought was right. I think of the soldiers and their leaders differently.”
At Stone Mountain, Tara Johnson, a surgical technician, finished her speed-walk and said this of the huge carving: “It doesn’t make me who I am. I could care less. It doesn’t change anyone’s heart. It’s just made of stone.”
Fred Speights, a Gwinnett County schools employee, described mixed feelings. He said the monuments are history but he is bothered when they are appropriated by racists to stir up their toxic stew.
“I could see telling the full story,” he said. “Talk about all the history.”
It’s an idea with real currency.
I've spoken several times on this subjectwith DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, who is also a historian. He notes that many, if not most, Confederate monuments were built to burnish the Lost Cause myth. What's needed, he said, is a true accounting of why they were built, and the stories of those not included.
Or tear them down.
That’s what a man named Rick Davis told me outside Stone Mountain’s Confederate Hall. He puts himself “in the middle” when it comes to removal.
“The removal part can get complicated,” he said. “It’s part of history, negative history. Make them tell the full story. Information is still the key.
“America is a melting pot of different opinions. People need to stop and listen.”