The world’s largest Confederate Monument faces renewed calls for removal

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial, a nine-story-high bas-relief sculpture carved out of a sprawling rock northeast of Atlanta, is perhaps the most daring monument in the south to its legacy of slavery still intact.

FILE PHOTO: A man speaks into a megaphone while pointing at the granite-carved Confederate Monument on Stone Mountain while protesting the monument at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia, United States, June 16, 2020. REUTERS / Dustin Chambers

Despite long-standing demands for the removal of what many consider a sanctuary for racism, the giant depiction of three Confederate heroes on horseback still looms menacingly over Georgia’s countryside, protected by state law.

The monument, which reopens on Independence Day weekend after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to close for weeks, has faced new requests for expulsion since the May 25 murder of George Floyd, a black man who died during an arrest of a white police officer. who nailed his neck to the ground with one knee.

The brutality of Floyd’s death, captured in a cell phone video, sparked a nationwide protest against racial injustice and revived a simmering battle between those demanding the removal of racist symbols from the public sphere, and those who believe that monuments honor the tradition and history of the south.

“Here we are in Atlanta, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, and we still have the largest confederate monument in the world,” said Gerald Griggs, vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP civil rights group, which organized a march in the past. week asking that the carving be scraped off the side of the mountain. “It is time for our state to get on the right side of history.”

The large scale of the monument makes its removal a daunting task to behold. Longer than a 100-yard football field, it features images of Jefferson Davis, the President of the 11-State Confederacy, and two of his legendary military leaders, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, with a relief 400 feet above the ground.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is an organization that strongly advocates for Stone Mountain and other Confederate statues and emblems. Dedicated to teaching the “Cause of the South,” according to his website, he believes its removal is similar to the purge of American history.

The “Lost Cause of the Confederation” of the South maintains that the war was fought by a heroic effort, but lost, to defend the rights of states to separate from the Union against the aggression of the North, instead of the preservation of the slavery.

Martin O’Toole, a Georgia chapter official, said the monument is not a racism totem at all. It is history, plain and simple, he says.

“They are three men on horseback,” said O’Toole. “What’s so racist about that?”

Maurice J. Hobson, associate professor of African American Studies at Georgia State University, counters this, describing the Cause of the South as “a false story” that minimizes the role of slavery in the Civil War.

He said the Confederate leaders were traitors to the United States who fought to maintain a southern economy that depended on slavery.

The three men featured at the monument, Davis, Lee, and Jackson, were slave owners.

“The entirety of Stone Mountain was erected to show what some white Georgians revered,” he said.

Stone Mountain has long maintained the symbolism of white supremacists. The Ku Klux Klan, a hate group made up of Confederate Army veterans and with a history of lynching and terror against blacks, held their mountaintop rebirth ceremony in 1915 with burning crosses. Members of the police still hold occasional meetings in the shadows of the building, although they now met with protesters behind the police tape. Many of those cross burns took place around July 4.

The monolithic monument was proposed more than a century ago and had numerous false starts over the years.

But with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, segregation officials in the state lobbied for the creation of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association in 1958 and bought the park. The carving was completed in 1972.

“This debate has been going on for years, and we are sensitive to it,” said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the group. “We want to tell the story as it is, not as some say it is.”

In the past, others have suggested balancing the monument. There was a proposal to build a monument to Martin Luther King Jr, the Atlanta-based civil rights icon, but the Sons of Confederate Veterans, as well as the King family, rejected the idea.

Although that idea failed, Hobson advocates adding more carvings to the rock, including historical African American figures and civil rights leaders.

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“It must be put in a context that forces a conversation, a serious conversation,” he said. “The easiest way to rectify it is to surround it.”

NAACP Griggs said the civil rights group has consulted with bricklayers who said it would cost around $ 300,000 to $ 400,000 to remove the stunning images.

“Put it down,” he said. “Restore the mountain to its original state”.

Rich McKay’s report; Editing by Frank McGurty and Aurora Ellis

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