Memorial Hall needs a new roof, new HVAC system and other fixes, Stephens said.
“The most important thing is to be able to spend the money on the museum exhibit itself, to tell the whole story of Stone Mountain and the Confederate monuments,” he said.
Stone Mountain has no ties to any Civil War battle or historical figure but contains the world’s largest Confederate monument, a giant carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Its conception coincided with the 1915 rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan on the mountain, but the monument sat unfinished for decades, until the state of Georgia bought the mountain and had the carving completed as leaders resisted court-ordered desegregation.
Warner Museums pitched an exhibit with nine different sections, including “Monuments and Mythmaking,” detailing how Confederate soldiers were commemorated in the South while the contributions of African Americans to the Union’s victory were marginalized.
Another section will detail “how collective memory reshaped the cause, outcome and meaning of the Civil War,” outlining the role white Southerners played in promoting the Lost Cause idea that the war was about states’ rights rather than slavery while continuing to oppress African Americans.
The exhibit will incorporate primary source documents, artifacts and interactive technology.
The research, renovations and creation of the exhibit will take about two years, Stephens said.
Warner Museums is based in Birmingham. The firm’s projects include the Country Music Hall of Fame and several civil rights exhibits, including one at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, a Black church bombed in 1963 by white supremacists.
Brian Morris, a member of the grassroots Stone Mountain Action Coalition, expressed mixed feelings about the state funding.
“I think it’s fantastic that they want to tell the truth about the park,” he said. “I have concerns about how much money they’re spending and how they’re going to do it.”
Morris pointed to Kemp’s recent appointment of former state Sen. Jeff Mullis, who authored the state law protecting Confederate monuments, to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association board. He also thinks Warner Museums’ Confederate War Memorial Museum in Alabama is “more of glamorizing than telling the truth.”
In the past two years, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association has removed a depiction of the controversial carving from its logo and named a covered bridge at the park for its Black creator. The association has promised to relocate a Confederate flag plaza from the base of a popular trail, but has not yet done so.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans plan to hold a Confederate Memorial Day event Saturday at Stone Mountain, over the objections of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition and the Southern Poverty Law Center.