Editorial note: This blog is modified from a longer post at Shannon’s website: click here to read 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 jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” — Dr. Martin Luther. King, Jr., “I Have a Dream,” 1963
Stone Mountain granite literally helped to build Atlanta, which anyone can see along the Atlanta BeltLine corridor in many places. All of Atlanta is structurally linked with Stone Mountain which, even if only symbolically, almost implicates it (and the whole state) in whatever has gone on there and what will happen next there. That’s why it was appropriate for Mark Pendergrast to include Stone Mountain and its history in City on the Verge. Click here for information on my trip up the mountain with Mark.
Most of us are familiar with the events at the mountain beginning in 1915, when it became the 20th Century rebirth place of the KKK. It was permanently branded with a Civil War carving that took decades and multiple carvers to finish by 1970, and it was turned into a legally protected Confederate monument by legislators. It overcame its past long enough to host some of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, and in 1998, Herschend Family Entertainment (aka Silver Dollar City) signed a 50-year lease to manage the park’s attractions. Regular readers of I Am the Mountain know that I personally consider the mountain to be a natural formation that’s been held hostage in a theme park since 1923. A theme park is an unfit gatekeeper for history. I am critical of how natural resources are used there and disappointed that they do not offer recycling within the park. Nor should park pass payments support Confederate monuments. Yet I love climbing the mountain and meeting the variety of people there.
Stone Mountain Park recently permitted white supremacists to hold a rally on 4/23/16, less than a year after 21-year-old Dylann Roof —who posed with white supremacist symbols like the Confederate flag and visited Confederate monuments — murdered nine innocent black churchgoers at Mother Emanuel in Charleston on June 17, 2015. Stone Mountain Park and its owner, the state of Georgia, and its attractions manager, Herschend Family Entertainment, often tolerate situations where Confederate symbols at Stone Mountain serve as a beacon of hate for racists, such as the group of alt-right racists I encountered on top of the mountain on 9/10/16.
Today Stone Mountain is a diverse, multicultural area, with many refugees resettled there and in neighboring communities like Clarkston, and most of the racists and neo-Confederates who organize their pathetic, sparsely attended rallies in Stone Mountain Park actually do not even live in Metro Atlanta but drive in from small rural towns and gravitate to Stone Mountain because they still regard it as a symbol of white supremacy from the days when the Klan held sway there, from approximately 1915 to 1958.
I do not know if Stone Mountain Park will ever fully be able to rebrand itself from once being synonymous with the Klan without changing the very laws that currently protect the Confederate symbols there that continue to speak to racists. The park also must change the ways it teaches history and presents its past (i.e. it barely does), even its most difficult chapters. This is one of the primary reasons I choose to highlight people from all over the world—of all races, walks of life, abilities, and religious faiths at I Am the Mountain — who, despite the odious Confederate symbols, are drawn to the mountain and have in a sense already reclaimed it from its traumatic history for themselves. They hike it for countless positive reasons and use it for recreation and general well-being now more than ever.
I think it’s important to show who is visiting and climbing Stone Mountain outside of its tired Confederate context. I celebrate diversity and different cultures, and I think it’s imperative that we continue to talk about race at a former bastion of white supremacy.