The Atlanta History Center's impressive documentary "Monument: The Untold Story of Stone Mountain" gives a comprehensive history of the state-owned Confederate memorial, a legacy of white supremacist Georgia's resistance to the civil rights movement.
History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale sets the tone for the 30-minute production, available on the AHC's web site. Hale asks whether the massive Stone Mountain carving of Confederate heroes Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson represents Georgia's values in the 21st century.
A group of noted historians gives brief but insightful commentaries on the memorial's twisted history. AHC senior historian and curator Gordon Jones stands out with an impassioned analysis of the monument as a symbol of the Confederate lost cause and resistance to black civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.
Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes offers perspective on the state's racially fraught politics and history.
The carving was begun by the revived Ku Klux Klan and the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the early 20th century, but the original campaign ran out of money in the 1920s. The carving was not completed until 1970 after the state took over Stone Mountain, developing the site into a popular state park.
Former Georgia Gov. Marvin Griffin and the Georgia Legislature's massive resistance to the 1954 Supreme Court ruling overturning segregation led to the state purchasing the site and completing the carving. The Confederate battle flag insignia was added to the state flag at the same time.
Barnes recalls his successful effort to remove the Confederate symbol from the state flag in 2001. But strong opposition led to his not winning re-election.
Emory professor Joseph Crespino and Spellman professor Cynthia Neal Spence, along with other commentators, point out that the monument originally celebrated the South's "Lost Cause" mythology, which led to Confederate monuments rising across the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The return of white supremacy in the South brought repressive Jim Crow laws and the horrifying lynching of blacks.
Donna Barron, the daughter of Roy Faulkner, the welder who completed the carving, speaks for those who want to preserve the monument as a historic shrine to those who fought and died for the Confederacy. The documentary shows a new group of young white males demonstrating at the park in favor of preserving the carving, protected from destruction or alteration by state law.
Removing the monument would likely require dynamite, and the untrained Faulkner's carving is an impressive work of art. An exhibit is under way to give "perspective" on slavery, reconstruction, lynching and the imposition of Jim Crow laws.
Atlanta Beltway founder Ryan Gravel in an article in the British newspaper the Guardian called for the monument to be covered by the uncontrolled growth of foliage.
Hale and the History Center deserve praise for calling for an end to the state's support of an egregious monument to white supremacy.
But destroying the carving would be objectionable. The removal of a work of art, no matter how distasteful, would be a terrifying precedent.
Perhaps some kind of shroud could cover the carving, allowing viewing of the monument by those who venerate it or have a historical interest.
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