More Black people live in the South than any other region, yet the reign of the confederacy still looms. We are forced to share space with those who continue the work of their confederate ancestors by stripping us of our dignity and rights. Moreover, we’re bombarded with the many relics and symbols that embolden those hateful folks.
One of those well-known symbols is the world’s largest Confederate monument. It sits right outside of Atlanta’s city limits, etched into Georgia’s Stone Mountain — in the predominantly Black city of the same name, Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Carved high into the mountain are outsized depictions of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.”
Much like the city’s residents, the Atlanta History Center’s staff has been engaged with the history of the Stone Mountain carving for many years. Expanding on the conversation, the center has released a documentary film that dives into the carving’s origin and controversial history, as well as the historical events that have taken place there.
“You can’t talk about Stone Mountain, you can’t talk about the carving without talking about race, without talking about symbolism. And what all of this stuff means,” Kristian Weatherspoon, The Atlanta History Center’s VP of Digital Storytelling told ESSENCE. “Having grown up steeped in this, I think about it a lot. It almost becomes something that you’re desensitized to because you see so much of this symbolism around you all of the time in the South — you kind of learn to live with it. But through the process of making this film, it really charged me to think about, ‘why am I used to it? Why is this almost a norm for me?’”
Weatherspoon explained that this project, the first of its kind for the center, was completed to inspire deeper learning and conversation about the history that we share — not just in the South, but as a country as well.
“I think in order to facilitate any kind of meaningful dialogue at a very basic level, we have to have an informed discussion. We have to have informed people having these conversations. And we also have to start from the same set of facts. The facts are non-negotiable,” she explained. “I want folks to leave [from seeing the film] with the facts. I want them to leave understanding that a lot of the symbolism was intentional. None of this was by happenstance. It was an intentional, directed, and targeted goal of folks to put these monuments in place and to have them there in perpetuity.”
One of those facts is that, less than two months after the passing of Board. v. Education, a segregationist Georgia governor called for the carving to be completed. As the Atlanta History Center notes, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Marvin Griffin “pointed to the mountain at a campaign rally and promised to finish the carving as a salute to those who fought for the South’s ‘way of life,’ a ‘polite’ way of saying preserving segregation.”
Griffin won his election and got his wish.
In addition to the importance of encouraging these conversations, Weatherspoon recognized the role of amplifying the voices of those whose perspectives have largely been left out of these conversations.
“We’ve got to understand that the history that we see preserved and perpetuated has a lot to do with who tells the stories. We’ve got to make sure that we are telling a full and complete story and exposing new generations to this history,” said Weatherspoon. “Stone Mountain has a large, diverse population now. It is a striking difference when you talk about the carving that’s on the mountain and the people who interact with this park every day.”
As a Black woman from Stone Mountain, Georgia, for much of my life, I was one of those people who interacted with the park daily. My family moved to Stone Mountain when I was a newborn. From then until leaving for college, I lived in various homes, but they were never far from the mountain — I could always see it in the distance. From time spent watching its fireworks show on the Fourth of July from lawn chairs at the park or nearby, to the countless treks I’ve made up the mountain to unwind — it has been one of the most notable and constant places of my life.
All the while, keeping in mind that the top of the mountain, where I frequently visit, is where members of the Ku Klux Klan gathered, in 1915, for the rebirth of its notoriously violent and hateful white supremacist group. Despite the beautifully diverse communities that live in the city and make their way to the mountain on a day-to-day basis, this is the history that it chooses to glorify. Because in upholding the carving, the white supremacist legacy it celebrates is being upheld too.
To be southern and Black is to be in a constant state of conflict over the place you love the most. I am madly in love with my southern roots, but when “home” is living among so many who equate “southern” with white supremacy, that’s a special kind of heartbreak.