Lewis Diuguid

Memorial to King atop Stone Mountain would cause America to confront its history

The carving depicting Confederates Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, in Stone Mountain, Ga., could have as its neighbor a replica of the Liberty Bell as a memorial to slain civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The carving depicting Confederates Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, in Stone Mountain, Ga., could have as its neighbor a replica of the Liberty Bell as a memorial to slain civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Associated Press

Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta is a strikingly beautiful place with a lovely park and campgrounds.

It has hiking trails, fishing at Stone Mountain Lake and an 18-hole golf course. Soon it is to have Liberty Bell replica as a memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., symbolically drawn from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

But the civil rights addition will have as its Stone Mountain neighbor the giant carvings of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson. Stone Mountain’s well-known Confederate history is why King in his speech said, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”

Despite the Stone Mountain Memorial Association’s best plans for the bell and for it to ring from the mountaintop, neither is not likely to be a set-in-stone certainty. King’s speech was copyrighted so the slain civil rights leader’s heirs will have to grant their permission. So far that doesn’t look as if it will be a problem.

But Stone Mountain has a deep Old South history that some are unwilling to surrender. The mountain was where the Ku Klux Klan got its second wind in 1915.

“Inspired by D.W. Griffith's silent film, “Birth of a Nation,” (which romanticized the earlier heyday of the Klan) William Simmons, a minister and organizer for fraternal associations, planned induction ceremonies to take place a week before the movie's opening in Atlanta,” The New Georgia Encyclopedia notes. “The ceremonies were intended to arouse the KKK from its 40-year dormancy in Georgia.

“Simmons secured an official charter from the state of Georgia, and on Thanksgiving evening of 1915, he and 16 other members of the new KKK ignited a flaming cross atop Stone Mountain. The second Klan went on to attract about 5 million supporters by the early 1920s. (The nation’s worse race riots also took place then all across America with whites rioting, destroying property and killing people in black communities.)

“Even more than the birth of the second KKK, the Confederate memorial gave Stone Mountain notoriety throughout the 20th century. A product of the Lost Cause era, the memorial was originally conceived as a symbol of the white South.”

The Confederate monument carved in granite was finished in 1972, more than 50 years after work began. The Sons of Confederate Veterans in a statement said on its website that putting the King memorial atop the mountain would be “wholly inappropriate” and possibly illegal because the Georgia General Assembly designated the mountain a Confederate memorial in 1958.

A display of Confederate flags near the base of Stone Mountain has picked up new criticism after a white gunman killed nine African Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., The Associated Press reports.

It would be good to have the Liberty Bell replica for King atop the mountain as a memorial to King. It would force people to confront the different aspects of American history in one place — at its finest and in its darkest days.

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