The Georgia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans has issued a statement in response to plans to erect a monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. atop Stone Mountain. As you might suspect, they are not pleased. Their statement is couched in some history of the site as well as their legal reading that supposedly prevents the erection of additional monuments on the landscape. The SCV has had little success with legal cases in the past, so I don’t put much stock in their reasoning. More interesting, however, are their concerns about how a monument to King alters the meaning of the site.
Consider the following passages:
This decision by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association is wholly inappropriate in that it is an intentional act of disrespect toward the stated purpose of the Stone Mountain memorial from its inception as well as a possible violation of the law which established the Stone Mountain Memorial Association and charged it with promoting the mountain as a Confederate memorial.
The erection of monuments to anyone other than Confederate heroes in Stone Mountain Park is in contradistinction to the purpose for which the park exists and would make it a memorial to something different. The park was never intended to be a memorial to multiple causes but solely to the Confederacy. Therefore, monuments to either Michael King or soldiers of any color who fought against the Confederacy would be a violation of the purpose for which the park was created and exists.
Furthermore, the erection of a monument to anything other than the Confederate Cause being placed on top of Stone Mountain because of the objections of opponents of Georgia’s Confederate heritage would be akin to the state flying a Confederate battle flag atop the King Center in Atlanta against the wishes of King supporters. Both would be altogether inappropriate and disrespectful acts, repugnant to Christian people.
It isn’t at first clear what the SCV believes to be the original meaning of the carving when it was commissioned and completed, but by the end there can be little doubt. The problem isn’t simply the presence of multiple causes or multiple meanings atop Stone Mountain. The problem is that MLK and black Union soldiers threaten – in a way that no other monument can – the meaning of the place. The Confederate carving and monument to King don’t just point to different narratives, the problem is that the presence of the latter throws a shadow on the former – a shadow that no number of mythical black Confederate soldiers can remove.
Why would a Confederate flag atop the King Center be offensive? Because it is the flag of an army that struggled for four years to help bring about an independent slaveholding republic. And it is the flag that white supremacists have used ever since to keep that cause alive. That is why anyone would see it as disrespectful.
What the SCV should have done was supported the placement of an MLK monument, but suggested that it be located elsewhere. Unfortunately for the SCV their attempt to explain why it is inappropriate at Stone Mountain reinforces why organizers want it there in the first place. In other words, the SCV confirmed what we all know to be true: that slavery and white supremacy lay at the center of the Confederate experiment.
I suggested tongue in cheek to Mr. Levin that, perhaps, the Confederate Sons might like to honor some of their early 20th Century work and erect a statue of the Knights of Little Mary Phagen lynching Jewish pencil store manager, Leo Frank, mistakenly (though they dispute the facts bitterly to this day) after Frank was pardoned by the outgoing governor who knew the case against him was based on false testimony. That was the ignominious revival act of the 20th Century Klan, which soon formed its new charter and pursued Jim Crow laws with a passion today reserved for gerrymandering and voter ID.
Great question Kevin. From the positive side, Arthur Ashe is a hometown-hero to the people of Richmond. As such, Richmond is where his memory belongs. Stone Mountain is not the home of MLK, indeed, I am not sure if he ever went there and if so, what was said at the site (a good thing to research). Still, there is more to this view. Put simply, in tracing the trajectories of remembrance and history, place really does matter. Let’s look as Ashe.
Many black leaders and the NAACP are quite angry with the location of Ashe’s statue along a road meant to memorialize heroes (all white of course) of the Confederate States. When placed there, it was meant to give equal honor and respect to a great African American…meant to. Sadly, contemporary feelings, ideas and even art fall flat in future interpretation. The Ashe sculpture, as you well know, depicts Ashe carrying a book and tennis racket, while a crowd of children reach up to him – reach toward a goal of greatness because they can, regardless. But in this case, the art and the location fail. From a distance, it looks like Ashe is striking the children. Adding insult to injury, Ashe’s statue is substantially shorter in stature than those of his rebel neighbors. When the monument was designed it was considered “elegant,” but it puny in perspective and seems like a small coat on a large person. When the statue was proposed Richmond’s black population and white population both agreed that the place selected was a poor choice – the place (Monument Avenue) means nothing to blacks and now Ashe’s statue means less to whites. Put simply, Ashe deserved better because his story is not a reflection of the Confederacy (or racism in America), but a signal success of individual triumph.
Now let’s look at Martin Luther King and Stone Mountain. As your readers have rightly noted, Stone Mountain is a post-war creation of fevered klansmen anxious to carve their version of history in stone…literally. This is not an argument of right vs. wrong, those paradigms shift generationally, but a note to establish why the place was created. Everything, everything that rock stands for is an insult to MLK. Placing a tiny bell in a puny tower atop a substantial mountain cut deep with Confederate icons is as insulting as it is ignorant. If people really want to honor King (and they already have in many, many ways) those honors should align with a place that has meaning to King and his efforts beyond a single line in speech. If, on the other hand, people are angry with the racism of that place then I recommend they move to Georgia and change the place one generation at a time until the scar can be excised from the rock and forever forgotten.
In striking a memorial, something to remember an event and those humans associated with it, place is everything. The complex interrelations between words carved in stone, public remembrance, and the politics of collective memory must lean on the appropriateness and near-sacred nature of place or the meaning is washed away and likely lost to future generations.
So, aside from the obvious bigotry displayed by many of the writers here, should we not approach this from a historical perspective?
What are we saying by adding a memorial to MLK on a site dedicated to Confederate leaders? I don’t mean what are we saying to the past, the past does not care; nor what are we saying to the present – the worst time to “memorialize” something is never while it is hot and heavy. The real question is “What are we saying to future generations?”
Sadly, I fear this may be more an insult to King than to any Confederate, dead, imaginary, of so thereof. Would King want his words placed here? If so, what words and why? The proposed design, an elevated tower with a replica of the Liberty Bell is apparently meant to evoke the line from King’s marvelous “I have a dream” speech where he said, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain Georgia!” A speech given in Washington DC in 1963.
So, let’s put it all together. We are placing a memorial to a man whose greatness is derived from a rise of social consciousness in the 1960’s on a small battlefield from a war that was fought in the 1860’s, reused by a disgusting hate group in the 1910’s using iconography from a rebellion fought in the 1780’s. Too add to this tableau, the proposed replica will be smaller than the carving of Lee’s head. More importantly, we are excluding the most important aspect of King’s speech – not the mention of Stone Mountain, but the beautiful words that precede it – “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the genuine discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
So I ask again, what are we saying here?
I think the idea of a museum to Colored Troops of the Civil War is wonderful. I think any effort to add interpretation to the site to explain the connection to the KKK is critical and must be done. But, the conceptually ridiculous idea of poking one group in the eye to earn a contemporary “I told you so!” will only result in confusion, laughter and, sadly, insult in the future.
Interesting perspective, Patrick. What differences (if any) do you see between placing a monument to King at Stone Mountain and one to Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue in Richmond?
Good question, Kevin. I do agree, however, with Patrick’s thoughtful post. When the Ashe statue was placed on Monument Avenue, I remember being not in favor of it–not for political reasons but for legitimacy/authenticity/historical reasons–I thought it should have been sited near a major Richmond sports complex. I also remember being in favor of a memorial to black Virginians who served in the USCT in place of the Ashe statue. But since I wasn’t a Richmond citizen, what business was it of mine?
How about a sculpture of Leo Frank being lynched by a mob of Georgia’s most distinguished judges and citizens with a plaque that reads: “To the fine proud Sons of the Confederacy who have lynched and murdered African Americans and Jews alike since reinventing history from the ashes of the Confederacy during the early days of the Wilson Administration show their true Christian values for all the world to see.”
Read the full release on your link. The SCV did a really good job of summarizing the history of Stone Mountain all the way back to 1916. Huh, I wonder why they stopped there? I guess nothing important happened on Stone Mountain until 1916. Yep, nothing at all: no meetings, no little clubs restarted, no Christian symbol set on fire. Just the world’s largest rock sitting undisturbed until the UDC, for some unknown reason, picked it.
They have no shame and no ability whatsoever to interpret the past.
My sister lives in Stone Mountain and we have dealt with the issues raised in these post. She took me to Sherman Town in Stone Mountain . General W. T Sherman created this town when he forced runaway slaves to stop following his army and stay where they at the time. I See a connection with the American Freedman Inquiry Commission report about slaves being whipped because they used a name not approved by slave masters. Those names were considered not legitimate . Martin is not a legitimate name to be honored . Hussian Obama is not a legitimate Christian name. Therefore he is not a legitimate President . This name was given to him when he was born in Kenya, according to the Birthers I was in Stone Mountain when J.B. Stoner was Mayor. He was head of the KKK. The memorial represents Confederate leaders .Yet , the SCV Know nothing of Mark Morrison, the African American who recovered Stonewall Jackson’s captured horse from a Union officer. They know nothing about James Pemberton . a servant of Jeff Davis who was sent to General Butler with false information. They know nothing about Lawson Johnson , my wife’s great great uncle , who was Ordered to the Trans-Mississippi by Davis through Beckenridge. The SCV does not recognize King as a Southerner , because they don’t recognize Booker T. Washington as a Southerner who financially supported Confederate monuments in Alabama and one Confederate Soldiers Home. BTW said in his official papers that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were his heroes . He praised General Gordon as a friend . . It was General Gordon who gave General Ewell the model for to move camp servants to soldiers.
This also took place in Georgia this weekend — Confederate flag supporters arrested on charges of terrorism and gang activity due to them threatening a group of black parents celebrating a child’s birthday party in July. These people are losing their battle and losing it quickly.
It’s amazing that none of the “southern heritage” folks are ever proud of MLK, who is undoubtedly from the south and is internationally reknown as a person who contributed to the common good of all humanity. He’s an actual model. It’s almost as if they aren’t celebrating southerners As a whole and are just celebrating America hating racists. Weird.
Just a month after the Pope used MLK as one of the four exemplar Americans in his speech to Congress.
I can only imagine who the Southern heritage people would pick as their four exemplar Americans in a speech before Congress.
He’s not just a role model for Southern Protestant Christians such as myself, he’s now an official Saint (Martyr category) of the Episcopal Church
Interesting. I’m warming up to the idea of adding an MLK monument to the site more and more now…
Nothing like southern racism to show what the heritage types really mean with their fake history and flag waving. Those clowns are their own worst enemies.
However, mad respect for spelling “heroes” correctly.
They white supremacists of the SCV are right about one thing – the proposed MLK memorial is indeed “an intentional act of disrespect toward the stated purpose of the Stone Mountain memorial“, and I couldn’t be more delighted. What could be more disrespectful to the cause of the Confederacy than a monument to the great black Georgian who opposed everything the Confederacy stood for? This is what a fight over public memory looks like, and it is no surprise that the SCV are infuriated that they are losing.
The comments on an Atlanta Journal Constitution piece announcing the memorial, including from longtime cwmemory fan Connie Chastain, are also quite instructive,
Notice the petty little sh*ts pandering to the myth that King’s “real” name is his birth name, Michael King, as opposed to the name he and his minister father adopted together as a statement of Protestant faith.
I wondered what the “Michael King” reference was a about. Ugh.
Racists tend to be very preoccupied with blacks people’s names.
That is some seriously ignorant and disrespectful stuff right there! From now on let’s just use REL and call him Ricky! Sad, but you are right, telling too. Does the state own “the King Center” like they own Stone Mountain? Who owns the reverent amusement park?
Yeah, but it’s typical. These are the same folks who brought us slogans like, “Confederate Lives Matter,” “Je Suis Stonewall,” and “Straight Outta Danville.” (I wouldn’t have guessed that Susan Hathaway was a big fan of Niggaz Wit Attitudes, but it is what it is.)