The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the state authority that manages the park, decided to move the flags two years ago and since then has been criticized for the delay. Bill Stephens, the association’s CEO, said it took some time to prepare the area where the flags were relocated. The move had also been on hold while the association switched private management partners for the park’s attractions, hotels and conference centers.
“We just completed the place where we’re going to relocate them to,” Stephens said. “The fact that it happened during Memorial Day week is not a negative.”
More than 3 million people visit Stone Mountain Park every year and traffic spikes during the patriotic holidays, Stephens said. People come for many reasons, including hikes, the laser show projected on the carving and the shops in the Crossroads village, he said.
The Confederate flags, donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, went up in the early 1960s. A United States flag and two Georgia flags still fly at the head of the walk-up trail.
Some hikers Thursday said there seemed to be fewer flags than before but that they’d never paid much attention.
“The Confederate flag was bringing too much unwanted attention to the owners of the mountain,” said Zamir Freeman, 20, after hiking with his friend Karisma Pollnitz, 20.
In the two days after the flags were moved, Stephens said he only received one complaint, from a woman who seemed to understand the change by the end of their conversation.
A state law that protects Confederate monuments prevents the flags from being removed entirely but says they can be moved to an equally prominent location. The memorial association thinks Valor Park qualifies. It keeps the flags with other Confederate tributes that visitors view by choice while clearing them from a place where many people, especially those who come just to hike, were offended by their presence.
“This relocation will position the Confederate Flag Plaza in a space dedicated to Confederate War dead, with other existing statuary in Valor Memorial Park and gardens in a place of similar prominence to their prior location,” the association said in a statement.
Valor Park, the new location, predates the flags. It contains a statue of an unnamed Confederate soldier with a broken sword. The word “valor” is carved on a bench. Another engraved quote from Robert E. Lee reads: “There is a true glory and a true honor: The glory of duty done — the honor of the integrity of principle.”
People who walk along Memorial Lawn to view the carving can access Valor Park. The lawn also contains the flags of every Confederate state.
The Stone Mountain Action Coalition has advocated for other changes at the park, such as renaming Confederate Hall, streets named for Confederate leaders, and Venable Lake, named for the Klansman who sold the mountain to the state.
“We look forward to the roads and the lake and the building names to be changed as soon as possible also,” Morris said.
The Ku Klux Klan was reborn on Stone Mountain in 1915, about the time work began on the carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The carving stalled for decades and was eventually completed during the civil rights movement a century after the Civil War, as Georgia fought integration efforts.
Amid economic struggles and protests over institutional racism and police brutality against Black Americans, the memorial association in the last few years started to promise changes to the park. In 2021, Gov. Brian Kemp appointed the first-ever Black chairman of the SMMA board, which approved changes including a “truth-telling” exhibit planned to explore the park’s racist history. This year’s state budget contains $11 million in bond funding for the exhibit, which Warner Museums has been contracted to design.
The association has also removed a depiction of the carving from its logo.