A compelling new short document that traces Stone Mountain’s racist roots

In recent years, Confederate monuments have collapsed across the country. But there is one that stubbornly lingers: rocky mountain.

Giant bas-reliefs depicting Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas J. Larger than a soccer field, the sculpture has been kept in place by size and location. (It will likely require dynamite to remove it.) It’s also enshrined in politics: Georgia law prohibits a monument from being “altered, removed, concealed, or obscured in any way.”

Over the years, different ideas have been floated to counter or contextualize it, leading to more nuance and depth to discussions about a site long framed as a memorial to the death of the Confederacy but whose entire history is inextricably intertwined With the rise of the modern Ku Klux Klan. Now, a compelling short documentary, produced by the Atlanta History Center, fills in some of the details about this contested site.

Monument: The Untold Story of Stone Mountain,” which will be available to view on the center’s website as of Thursday morning, couldn’t land a better time. In November, the Stone Mountain Memorial Assn., the state entity that operates the site, announced that it had I contracted with an exhibition design companyWarner Museums, to conceptualize and build a new display of “truth” about the history of the monument.

The glass shows a plaster model of rough relief depicting Confederate leaders on horseback.

A 1926 design model for Stone Mountain is in the site museum.

(Carolina Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

The on-site museum currently puts on a historical display, but it ignores much of the memorial’s social context: It was conceived in 1910, at the height of Jim Crow, then idled for decades, only to be set alight by an segregationist. Governor of Georgia during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s. Stone Mountain was also the setting for a group of men – inspired by D.W. Griffith’s racist filmThe birth of a nationwho made the original Ku Klux Klan a smoothie – climbed the mountain in November 1915 to burn a cross and revive the KKK.

The memorial’s current exhibition features one panel about the Klan, framing it as “a dark chapter in our history.” But klan Many More than just a chapter – think of it as a long-running narrative thread.

At the time of the monument’s construction, the owner of Stone Mountain granted the Klan unrestricted access to the site for rallies and meetings—they retained access until the state purchased it in 1958. Omitted from the current view is the fact that Helen Plane oversaw the Atlanta chapter of the Union of Daughters of the Confederacy and helped launch the idea for the monument Confederate Memorial at Stone Mountain, and he once wrote to the project’s original designer, Gutzon Borglum (who later went on to carve Mount Rushmore), encouraging him to include Klansmen in the sculpture—an idea also inspired by The Birth of a Nation.

She wrote, “Since I have seen this fine and beautiful picture of Reconstruction in the South, I feel that it is due to the Ku Klux Klan which has saved us from the domination of the Negroes and the carpet-bag rule, to be immortalized on Stone Mountain. Why not represent a small group of them in their night-dress approaching from a great distance ?

A bas-relief of Confederate leaders on horseback is carved into a massive outcropping of granite seen between tree branches.

A view of the Confederate Monument at Stone Mountain in May 2022.

(Carolina A Miranda/Los Angeles Times)

“The Monument,” ably directed by the Center’s Vice President of Digital Stories Christian Witherspoon, packs all of this history into a tight 30-minute film that illustrates Stone Mountain’s story, context, and significance to various audiences. The film unfolds through a series of interviews with historians and activists as well as galore historical footage—some of it chilling.

Among these featured Donna Barron, daughter Roy Faulkner, the sculptor who saw the monument completed in the early 1970s. “Sure, there is something good, bad, and ugly in every story,” she tells Camera. “We just need to stay focused on the good, not the bad.”

But the document shows that there was no way to address one without the other, because the motivation for building the monument was not to celebrate heroism but to intimidate those fighting for civil rights while providing a story The lost cause.

“I know a lot of people believe the Confederacy and this monument represents their heritage,” says Claire Healy, who works with Democracy Initiatives at the History Center. “But what I want to remind people is that what we’re talking about is what this memorial stands for — it represents massive resistance to federally mandated integration.”

The intent of creating Confederate monuments “was to weaponize art in support of a false ideology,” says Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

These sculptures were tools of terror—a way of showing, as one historian in the documentary puts it, that “the people who lost the war are now back in power.”

In her 2020 memoir Memorial Drive, Poet Natasha Trethewey — whose family once suffered a crucifix burning — wrote eloquently about what Stone Mountain meant to her black family in the South. The monument was visible at a distance from her mother’s apartment, “as if to remind me of what I don’t remember here and what not”.

The Atlanta History Center’s documentary serves as a way to remember what has been forgotten—or perhaps more accurately, unspoken. It follows an earlier effort, from 2017, when Historians at the Center published 14 page report It offers an intense history of Stone Mountain that addresses the social forces that led to its creation – and that still keep it afloat.

“Memorial” brings that history to life over the course of an enlightening, gut-wrenching half hour. And it’s not just about the past; It’s about the future, too.

As Sheffield Hill, chair of the History Center, says at the top of the film: “Does this Confederate garden represent where we Georgians want to be in the 21st century?”

This is something Georgians will need to reckon with. Step one: Being honest about why Stone Mountain is fraud and the hateful messages it continues to promote.

“Monument: The Untold Story of Stone Mountain” will be available to view at 6 a.m. Thursday PT atlantahistorycenter.org.

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