Stone Mountain: A Troubled History

Pixabay

The American ruling class is no stranger to immortalizing its leaders in stone, and the leaders of the failed Confederate States of America were no exception. Before you read about the modern celebration of Stone Mountain and its memorial, some historical context is required to understand what is happening there today, and why.

To understand why factions of the ideological right and left clash each year in this otherwise quiet Georgia town, you must first understand what Stone Mountain is and how it became a symbol of racism in America.

You will hear modern conservatives defend the monument as a testament to the South’s traditions and history, and the left decry it as a symbol of racism and the object of revisionist history. This article will delve into the true history of Stone Mountain, told by those who built it.

Part One: The Colonization of Georgia

Lone Mountain

Stone Mountain before the carving of the memorial — Wikipedia

The lands encompassing Stone Mountain, Georgia were once home to the Creek (Muscogee) Native Americans, both a part of the greater ethnographic classification known as the Indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands. Before them, came the poorly understood mound-building cultures, with evidence of human visitation dating back 9,000 years. The Muscogee knew it as Lone Mountain.

Throughout the 19th century, through various means both legal and illegal, American colonizers steadily and forcefully pushed the Natives further and further west as part of the greater goal of ridding American lands east of the Mississippi River of Native Americans. Before his Presidency and eventual enacting of the 1830 Indian Removal Act (the precursor to the Trail of Tears) General Andrew Jackson was already earning a name for himself, brutally forcing the Creek tribes off of millions of acres of ancestral land that the white settlers had no right to.

The discovery doctrine, also called doctrine of discovery, is a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, most notably Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823. Chief Justice John Marshall explained and applied the way that colonial powers laid claim to lands belonging to foreign sovereign nations during the Age of Discovery. Under it, European Christian governments could lay title to non-European territory on the basis that the colonisers travelled and “discovered” said territory. The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of modern governments, such as in the 2005 case of Sherrill v. Oneida Nation.

Wikipedia

The Indian Springs Treaties

The Creeks were not a single united front among Native Americans and in fact, had conflicts with both European settlers and other native groups, as well as internal conflicts within the tribe itself. In 1821, elements of the Creeks signed a treaty with Georgia, ceding more than four million acres of ancestral lands in what is now Western Georgia in exchange for roughly $200,000 ($5.73 million in 2022). The treaty was far from popular, and the Creek National Council made a pledge, under penalty of death, against giving up any further land to the U.S. This oath would be broken only four years later, and the penalty enacted.

William McIntosh, 1838 — Charles Bird King

In 1825, six chiefs of the Lower Creek signed yet another treaty, giving away all remaining Muscogee lands in Georgia to the US, without the consent of the Creek National Council. The Council, adhering to the pledge of 1821, called for the execution of its signatories; the Upper Creek raised some 200 people to carry out this sentence.

Among the charged was the infamous and well-connected William McIntosh Jr., the son of a Wind Clan matriarch and a wealthy Scottish-American soldier. McIntosh made his fortune as a plantation owner and slaveholder.

McIntosh’s cousin was the governor of Georgia, George Troup, and a former governor was his daughter’s father-in-law. He used his connections to both white and Indigenous elites to great advantage. A Brigadier General, McIntosh fought under Andrew Jackson, assisting Americans in the killing of the Red Stick factions in numerous battles.

The Red Sticks, who derived their name from their red ceremonial war clubs, were a nativist or conservative faction of Creeks, predominantly from the Upper Towns, that rejected the relationship (with its subsequent selective cultural exchange) that the Lower Towns were fostering with the nascent United States. In August of 1813, following a series of skirmishes with the Mississippi Territorial militia, the Red Sticks overwhelmed Fort Mims (located in present-day Southwest Alabama) using weaponry provided to them by the British and Spanish. Upon defeating the militia garrisoned on the fortified plantation, the Red Sticks killed nearly every Lower Creek and white settler who had sought refuge there. The dramatic victory by the Red Sticks at Fort Mims sent reverberation across the United States that, ultimately, thrust the nation into the Creek Civil War.

Spring 1814: The Battle of Horseshoe Bend — Ethan Moore, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

A Pyrrhic Victory

On April 30, 1825, William McIntosh’s home was burned to the ground by Creek forces. McIntosh was shot, pulled from the ashes of his home, stabbed in the heart, and buried naked in an unmarked grave on his lands, now called McIntosh Reserve. Two other signatories were executed in the raid.

After James Monroe, a Democratic-Republican, was replaced by the Whig John Quincy Adams (son of founding father John Adams), the Creeks negotiated with Adams to repeal the 1825 Treaty of Indian Springs. They successfully renegotiated more favorable terms under the federal 1826 Treaty of Washington. While the treaty did not restore the Creek’s lands, it did offer better terms and resources for relocation. Native Americans now represent less than 1% of the Georgia population.

Governor George Troup ignored the treaty and continued removing the Creeks using state militia forces. A federal treaty, Adams was authorized to deploy American Army forces to enforce it, but Troup called the bluff, threatening to engage federal forces in the name of the all-too-familiar slogan of ‘State’s rights.’ The contention nearly led to a face-off between the American military and Georgia state militia, and President Adams conceded to avoid a civil war that came nonetheless, 36 years later.

Part Two: The 20th Century

Dawn of the 20th Century

Fast-forward past the Civil War, wherein Stone Mountain Village was destroyed in the Battle of Atlanta in July, 1864. Stone Mountain itself was not far from where Union General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” began.

In the early 20th century, Stone Mountain maintained a significant population of now-freed African Americans. Shermantown was the name of a black shantytown that had formed outside of the razed Stone Mountain following the Civil War. Freed slaves were denied residence in the village proper, and were forced to make use of lands southeast of the village, in order to stay in the place they’d called home all their lives. In the modern age, little is left to tell the story of African American resilience in Stone Mountain Village besides a few historical markers and signs that decline to elaborate.

The Reconstruction Era followed the Civil War. The Confederate states, now returned to the United States of America, were in ruins. Economically, spiritually, and physically, the South had fallen. How they would be lifted up again remained a matter of hot debate.

The national debate over Reconstruction began during the Civil War. In December 1863, less than a year after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Pres. Abraham Lincoln announced the first comprehensive program for Reconstruction, the Ten Percent Plan. Under it, when one-tenth of a state’s prewar voters took an oath of loyalty, they could establish a new state government. To Lincoln, the plan was an attempt to weaken the Confederacy rather than a blueprint for the postwar South. It was put into operation in parts of the Union-occupied Confederacy, but none of the new governments achieved broad local support. In 1864 Congress enacted (and Lincoln pocket vetoed) the Wade-Davis Bill, which proposed to delay the formation of new Southern governments until a majority of voters had taken a loyalty oath. Some Republicans were already convinced that equal rights for the former slaves had to accompany the South’s readmission to the Union.

Reconstruction — Brittanica

The Klan’s First Act

It was at the advent of Reconstruction (1865 to be exact), in Pulaski, Tennessee that six Confederate officers formed a small occultic social club, with odd rituals and rites, that festered and grew throughout the South. The first Ku Klux Klan was born. The Klan grew in popularity, though it had no overarching structure or leadership. It was decentralized, which was part of what made fighting them so difficult.

Ku Klux Klan costumes in North Carolina in 1870

The Klan resisted Reconstruction, using white supremacy, extreme violence, and political assassinations in an attempt to preserve the Democrats’ hold on the South. Their brutality ended up being their undoing. They never overthrew the growing Republican South. They never maintained the independence of the once-Confederate states, and they failed to stop the growing equality of African Americans in America. Popular support for the Klan sputtered out with the passing and enforcement of the 1871 Klan Act.

“The Fiery Cross of old Scotland’s hills!”The Clansman, by Arthur I. Keller

Klanlike violence was also used to control freedpeople’s social behavior, but with less success. Black churches and schools were burned, teachers were attacked, and freedpeople who refused to show proper deference were beaten and killed. But, Black Georgians fought their attackers, rebuilt their churches and schools, and shot back during attacks on their communities. While these attacks surely terrorized some freedpeople, they failed to destroy the cultural and social independence Blacks had gained with emancipation.

Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era — Jonathan Bryant

Before you scratch your head at the values of both political parties, it’s worth noting that the American political landscape underwent a dramatic flip in the 1920s. Prior to the ’20s, the Republican party was the party of racial progress, and the Democrats were more akin to today’s GOP: opposed to taxation, isolationist, with a strong bent toward white supremacy. Andrew Jackson, who you read about earlier, was himself a Democrat. Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. You will often hear modern Republicans proudly proclaim themselves the “Party of Lincoln”, and while technically true, this is a dishonest representation of their values.

Enter Venable

William H. Venable

William Hoyt Venable and Samuel Hoyt Venable came from a long line of wealthy, slave-owning, Englishmen who first settled in Virginia around 1685. Their wealth and connections grew with that of the American colonies. William and Samuel purchased Stone Mountain and other surrounding lands in 1887 for $350,000, of which the mountain itself comprised $48,000.

Samuel H. Venable

I give & Bequeath unto my son John Venable my seven hundred & Eighty three acres of land with the plantation whereon I now live situate lying & being on both sides the South Anna river in Louisa County, the s’d dividend of land, be the same more or less, to him the s’d Jno. Venable & to his Heirs & assigns forever & I also give & bequeath unto my s’d son Jno. Venable my four negroes (viz) Jack, David, Daniel & my negro girl Joyce & their increase, f’rever,

“Will of Abraham Venables of Louisa Co., Va.” — Jan. 9, 1769.

The Venable brothers used the mountain as a quarry, and its stones can be found all over the nation from the foundations of Atlanta to the steps of the U.S. Capitol; stones from Stone Mountain can even be found in Communist Cuba. Samuel never married, never had children. When he died, he bequeathed his share of Stone Mountain to his sister, Elizabeth. William had two sons, and their brother Clarence had a son, James. James will come up later.

The Klan Two: Stone Mountain Boogaloo

Birth of a Nation theatrical poster

It’s 1915, and the film “The Birth of a Nation” is making the rounds in the United States. A landmark film in every technical aspect, it captured the attention of Americans everywhere; it truly was a marvel of cinematic history. The plot, however, left something to be desired. Staunchly revisionist, the film paints the noble South as victims, helpless against the cruelty of the North and the vicious, low nature of the freed slaves. The film glorified the Klan as a sort of chivalric resistance. The film debuted and the racism that plagued America erupted for a period, sparking riots in several major cities.

While the riots sparked by the film itself did not result in loss of life, the film and its legacy directly helped kickstart the Klan’s second coming. It was perhaps the first major motion picture to earn a body count.

“[Griffith] portrayed the emancipated slaves as heathens, as unworthy of being free, as uncivilized, as primarily concerned with passing laws so they could marry white women and prey on them,”

The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War Dick Lehr, NPR
Trigger warning: this film contains extremely racist depictions of African Americans.

In the vast fabric of American history, where do Stone Mountain, the Venables, and The Birth of A Nation intersect?

One cold November evening in 1915, in lieu of a screening of the film in nearby Atlanta, a middle-aged preacher, still recovering from a car accident, climbed to the summit of Stone Mountain carrying a sword, with a small crowd of white men, women, and children.

At the top, William J. Simmons read some words and said some things to the small gathering. Then, he set a cross on fire, reigniting that antebellum ember that was the South’s war against the Black race into a full-blown inferno of hate, violence, and political power. He resurrected the Ku Klux Klan.

From a side street in Stone Mountain village, you can see the rounded summit of the granite mountain.  Today you can’t really make out what’s going on up top. But historian Paul Hudson, Georgia Perimeter College professor and co-author of “Atlanta’s Stone Mountain: A Multicultural History,” suspects it would have been noticeable when the Ku Klux Klan assembled there in 1915.

“It was Thanksgiving night and maybe people would come out,” said Hudson, “and if they were where we are now on this rise, they could probably see a burning, fiery cross.” The burning fiery cross was lit by William Joseph Simmons, an Atlanta man who, Hudson says, was a failure before he came up with the idea to revive the Klan, a group that had disappeared decades before. Simmons planned the ceremony in strange detail:

“Simmons had a sword, civil war saber,” Hudson said. “There were various texts. There was the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence. And by the way, the order of the laws of the Ku Klux Klan.” It was an all-American affair, or that’s how Simmons and his followers thought of it. They were inspired by a new film, “Birth of a Nation,” that depicted the first Klan as American saviors.

Stone Mountain And The Rebirth Of The KKK, One Century AgoStephannie Stokes

Standing on that mountain-top that very night was the mountain’s owner, Samuel Venable, with his 13-year-old nephew, James, at his side. James Reagan Venable would go on to lead a prominent faction of the KKK at its highest rank, Imperial Wizard, during one of the most important periods for African Americans in American history, second only to emancipation itself: the Civil Rights Era. He would head the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan while it numbered in the millions. Historians say it was in the ballpark of three to seven million, James claims it was closer to nine. To quote James in a 1982 interview:

“We had six governors of Georgia, six mayors of Atlanta, several presidents, senators, and congressmen, mayors all over the United States. In Fulton County Sheriff James R. Larry [spelling?], who was sheriff for fifty-two years, was on the Imperial Board; Judge Paul Ethridge, one of our judges and county commissioner, represented the Klan–he was on the Imperial Board while Governor Walker was on the Imperial Board. But the world doesn’t record these facts; it don’t tell you that we had presidents, senators, and congressmen.

1982 Interview with James Venable
40,000 Ku Klux (1925)

The Memorial, Interrupted

Sam Venable was approached by a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (Similar to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Klan connections included) sometime in 1915 with an idea for Stone Mountain. They proposed the carving of a massive sculpture into the mountain’s face, honoring the Confederate leadership with a larger-than-life work of art that would rival anything existing in the United States at the time.

“perhaps nothing illuminates the UDC’s true nature more than its relationship with the Ku Klux Klan. Many commentators have said the UDC simply supported the Klan. That is not true. The UDC during Jim Crow venerated the Klan and elevated it to a nearly mythical status. It dealt in and preserved Klan artifacts and symbology. It even served as a sort of public relations agency for the terrorist group.”

The group behind Confederate monuments also built a memorial to the Klan — Greg Huffman
Unknown United Daughters of the Confederacy — Harris & Ewing, Library of Congress

Venable accepted skeptically, under the terms that they would control the north face of Stone Mountain, a mere 1000 feet of his property, for 12 years, after which time he would resume ownership. The UDC quickly got to work, creating the UDC Stone Mountain Memorial Association and enlisting the service of American sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The project stalled with the onset of World War I.

YouTube Stone Mountain Park Confederate Memorial Carving

Running into funding issues, among other problems; they had only paid Borglum $2,000 for a project sure to cost millions. Borglum and company took seven of their allotted twelve years just to begin the process of carving. They finished the head of Robert E. Lee in 1924.

Only a year later, Borglum’s relationship with the association had soured and Borglum was fired. Further, he destroyed or absconded with his models —the only models— of the planned memorial. The association, furious, had him charged and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The exact nature of the conflict remains unclear, though some speculate that it involved the internal politics of the KKK, of which both Borglum and the UDC were greatly involved. In The Undefeated, a book written about Borglum’s Stone Mountain project, author Gerald W. Johnson paints a more sympathetic and artistic reason for the rift.

Thus, when it developed that one of these cracks ran right across the place where the bridge of Stonewall Jackson’s nose was to be, not much trouble was anticipated. It was thought that nothing more would be necessary than to cut the face a little deeper than had been intended. Orders were accordingly given to set Jackson’s head back. But the crack persisted, and the head was set back again and again until its position had been moved four times. Then it was realized that this particular crack, instead of being twenty inches deep, ran back into the granite a good four feet.



But Borglum had an eye to the future. The stonecutters were right, in so far as appearances went. No human being would ever guess the existence of that flaw, from simply looking at the head. But forty or fifty years hence—possibly within a much shorter time, but certainly within half a century–a film of water would have found its way into that crack, and would have frozen there. That would widen the crack, ever so slightly, and the next winter a little more water would have come in, and widened it a little more, until within four or five decades that freezing process would split the mass of granite off, and the figure would be ruined. Borglum was not carving for this generation, or the next. He meant to make that memorial as nearly immortal as human ingenuity can make anything. Therefore to leave it with the faintest trace of a crack in its surface was unthinkable.



That is why, when he learned that his dismissal from the job was contemplated, Borglum ordered the false model destroyed. It was the only way in which he could protect the face of the mountain from the possible bungling efforts of journeymen stone-cutters to finish the job by following that treacherous guide.

The Undefeated — Gerald W. Johnson

Borglum fled Georgia in the wake of his failure at Stone Mountain and was later arrested. His connections as a member of the Ku Klux Klan helped him to escape conviction. Publicly, he denied being a member of the Klan, though Imperial Wizard James Venable named him as such in an interview long after his death.

[Borglum] was arrested because he got mad with the Association, and he destroyed his models down there, and they taken that for destruction of those monuments and taken out a warrant for him, and he fled into the state of North Carolina and was arrested there. And at that time Borglum was closely connected and a member at that time of the Klan; and we were so powerful, and my uncle, Samuel Halkner, an old bachelor, my father’s brother, was Treasurer of the Klan of the United States, and we were so powerfully and politically connected, the Klan was, that we were successful in getting him released without extradition.

1982 Interview with James Venable

The book further impugns the integrity of the UDC in relation to Borglum’s charges. The implication being, the UDC wanted him punished, severely, for whatever it was that had transpired between them.

It is not the purpose of this book to go into details regarding the disgraceful squabble that culminated in February, 1925, in the securing of an injunction restraining Borglum from approaching the work, and then in his indictment in Georgia for a felony, to wit, the stealing of one plaster cast, value fifty dollars. The plaster cast Borglum unquestionably did take and remove from the studio, and carry to Tucker’s house, which is not on the property of the Association. He carried it there purposely. It was one of several art objects he had brought with him from Stamford. The committee did not know whose bust it was, what it meant, or whom it represented. The value of fifty dollars was put upon the cast, because under the law of Georgia the value of stolen property must be fifty dollars or more before the theft becomes a felony, and it was essential that he be charged with a felony, because only men charged with felonies are extraditable. After the explosion, Borglum had gone to North Carolina, and his enemies wished to drag him back in handcuffs to stand trial in a Georgia court.

The Undefeated — Gerald W. Johnson

Two years later, alleged Klansmen Gutzon Borglum and his Protégé, Luigi Del Bianco, would begin work on their next project: Mount Rushmore. All of the carving he was responsible for was destroyed at Stone Mountain, blasted off with explosives in 1928.

The Coin

Following Borglum’s departure and the minting of a confederate half-dollar coin, approved by Congress and signed by President Coolidge, to raise funds for the memorial, the project remained stalled. Suddenly flush with cash, the UDC experienced immense internal—

Wait, go back. What’s that about a coin? Oh yeah, Borglum and the UDC petitioned the United States government to mint a commemorative coin, honoring the Confederates who slaughtered American soldiers and fought to preserve slavery, in order to raise funding for a memorial to said Confederates. It worked, and it wasn’t even a scheme. To hear it told, government officials were eager to appease the South.

Stone Mountain Memorial half dollar

This was a proposal to ask the United States Government to issue a special coin for a memorial commemorative of the valor of men who had fought against it! Here was a poser indeed, and long and anxious were the consultations that were held over it. Here again Borglum was full of ideas. He explained them to the directors and was asked to go to Washington to see what he could do, and the results were so promising that he was put in complete charge of the passage of the Coin Act, and the making of the design.

The tale of that journey is one of the finest chapters in the story of Stone Mountain. Borglum called upon three men, from none of whom had he much reason to expect help, and from whom he had very definite reasons to expect repulses. The three were Henry Cabot Lodge, Senator from Massachusetts, author of the Force Bill which had made him perhaps more cordially hated in the South than any other man in public life; Reed Smoot, Senator from Utah and leader of the Republican party, which the South religiously votes against in every election; and Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States, against whose election Borglum himself had voted as a supporter of the La-Follette-Wheeler ticket.

He began with Lodge.

“Senator, this is a thing unprecedented in the history of the world,” he said. “I am asking you to break the precedent of every civilized nation. But I am asking you to do a thing that is bigger than any precedent -I am asking you as a northerner and a Republican to do this gracious and friendly act for the Democratic South to signalize the sincerity of the friendship that the North professes for the South. I want the United States Government to write on this coin, ‘Commemorating the valor of the soldiers of the South,’ as notice to the world that we no longer recognize differences between Americans, and that the glory of one section is the glory of us all.”

And Lodge, long held to be the arch-enemy of the South, said,

“Borglum, it is a beautiful idea. Go to Smoot, chairman of the finance committee. I will see him, too, and do all I can for you. I heartily approve your plan.

He went to Smoot. That Republican leader, knowing that there was not a vote to be gained, and perhaps many to be lost among prejudiced northerners, said,

“Leave it to me. I would like to handle it for you.”

He went to the president. He replied, “When Congress is through with it, and it has passed the committee, I will do what is right.”

Borglum had appealed from sectionalism to Americanism, and the response had been instant, generous and fine. The bill was introduced into a Congress heavily Republican and in addition stirred by the animosities always generated by a presidential election, but it went through without a single vote against it.

The Undefeated — Gerald W. Johnson

Once again, James Venable intimates that the far-reaching power of the Klan at its peak may have helped in the minting of the coin. Whether there is truth to that statement, nobody can say. The coins can be purchased today for about $16,

They had an office in the Hurt Building for a good many of years there. When they eventually got the monument–the coin, the fifty-cent coin, was minted by the United States Congress. It said it couldn’t be done because the South was traitors to our country; therefore, it would be impossible to ever get a coin minted. The Klan was so powerful politically at the time, we were successful in getting the coin–the fifty-cent coin– minted, through Congress, and a million and a half of them were minted; and very few of them was ever spent to carve that mountain. It was squandered otherwise through the Association.

1982 Interview with James Venable

Part Three: The Civil Rights Era

The Mountain As A Political Tool

The mountain was used by the Klan for years for cross burnings and ceremonies. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Era that this holy site of white supremacy began to fade as the Klan’s Mecca. In 1958, the state of Georgia purchased Stone Mountain for $2 million, turning the symbol of white supremacy into a state park, and cross burnings were no longer held at its summit.

But don’t be fooled. The move to purchase Stone Mountain was not an attempt at stamping out white supremacy, it was an attempt to further legitimize it at a time when racists began to feel threatened by the growing equality of America’s people of color and the successes of the NAACP. The purchase of Stone Mountain was overseen by none other than the corrupt segregationist Governor Marvin Griffin. He was once described as “one of the most corrupt public officials ever to hold office in Georgia.”

Then along came Gov. Marvin Griffin. He was a segregationist who was governor when the Confederate battle flag was added to the state flag in 1956.

He got the project funded and restarted. As the state’s chief executive he connected federal intervention on matters of civil rights and segregation to intrusion on state’s rights, saying the NAACP was “dead set on destroying segregation and our way of life.”

The history center white paper points out that Griffin helped create “messaging surrounding Confederate symbols as nationalization of the Lost Cause and what it stood for, essentially cloaking the Lost Cause and white supremacy in an American flag.”

Opinion: Really understanding Stone Mountain’s history Kevin Riley, Atlanta Journal–Constitution

Martin Luther King

Stone Mountain is not just a symbol of the Confederacy, it’s a symbol for Georgia, and for the South. The granite slopes were mentioned by Martin Luther King Jr. in his revolutionary I Have A Dream speech.

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

I Have A DreamMartin Luther King Jr.

The Klan, Act III

State History Marker in Neshoba County


It will never be known exactly how many people of color were murdered by members of the Klan in the Civil Rights Era. The police were not especially motivated to solve these crimes, and in the South, the Klan had infiltrated nearly all levels of government. In one well-documented case, police officers participated directly in the murder of three civil rights activists.

The murderers were discovered and convicted in a chaotic trial marred by racism and corruption. None of the those convicted, including a Klan Imperial Wizard and more than one police officer, served longer than six years. There are organizations that exist today dedicated to shedding light on the many unsolved murders of that era.

One must ask themselves how many lives would have been spared had William J. Simmons not climbed the slopes of Stone Mountain that cold night in 1915 with a cross and a sword. It’s possible he was only one piece of the puzzle. By the 1950s, the Ku Klux Klan had six major organizations spread throughout the United States; Venable’s was but one of them. The decentralized nature of the Klan was part of what made fighting them so difficult. It was like fighting an insurgency.

The Plantation House

Stone Mountain is home to a recreation of a slave plantation. It features many real and restored buildings, including intact slave cabins. To see these small, uninsulated, drab, miserable clapboard cabins juxtaposed with the gross wealth of the Davis House, a large manor on the site, is heart-breaking.

An early version of the park beneath the sculpture included a replica plantation, where slave quarters were described as “neat” and “well furnished” in promotional materials. The slaves were called “hands” or “workers,” Hale writes, and black actor Butterfly McQueen was hired to provide visitors with information about the park. 

What Will Happen to Stone Mountain, America’s Largest Confederate Memorial?Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian Magazine

Part Four: The Modern Conflict

Monuments

Confederate Dead Monument in front of Texas State Capitol

Throughout the 2010s and 2020s, there has been a significant push to remove or relocate America’s various Confederate monuments. It strikes many as odd to see monuments dedicated to a nation that fought against the United States. Further, in its deadliest conflict against an enemy that rebelled to maintain its ability to enslave human beings. Imagine traveling to France and seeing monuments of Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler beside the Eiffel Tower.

What’s more, many of these monuments were not erected following the war. They were erected during the early 20th century and during the Civil Rights Era; both periods of time when African Americans faced both growing equality and violent resistance from racist white Americans. There exist more than 1,500 Confederate memorials of various forms in the United States. Stone Mountain’s carving is included in this list, and in the modern era, many have pushed for its destruction.

Conservatives in the modern era use various tactics, dishonest at best and violent at worst, to resist these removals. If you attend a protest, you’re likely to hear Republicans chanting slogans like “heritage, not hate”. Claiming that they themselves aren’t racist, but want to preserve the memory of their ancestors who fought and died for something they believed in… It’s just that the thing they believed in was the enslavement of other human beings.

“In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”

Constitution of the Confederate States
Word Cloud of Georgia's Statement of Secession in the Shape of the State of Georgia
Georgia’s statement of secession as a word cloud

Another is the argument for “States’ rights”. A long-held notion of the conservative faction is that the individual decisions of a state should carry more weight than decisions at the federal level. This argument, too, falls apart under scrutiny; the right that the confederacy was most concerned about was their right to enslave African Americans. Despite attempts to smother this historical fact, many Confederate states wrote this rationale into their declarations of secession. Georgia’s own statement of secession mentions slavery 35 times.

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.

Georgia Secession

The Klan Alive

Despite the long tradition of burning crosses at Stone Mountain, one has not occurred on the summit proper since 1962, when the Klan faced off against the police, outnumbering and intimidating the local cops. Our Imperial Wizard James R. Venable frequently held the burnings on his own property at the base of the mountain, no longer able to use state property.

In 2017, the Sacred Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (a different faction from Venable’s faction) applied for a permit to burn a cross on the mountain’s top once more. It was denied, and the Klan categorically denounced.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association this week denied the request for a 21 October cross-burning and said in a statement that it “condemns the beliefs and actions of the Ku Klux Klan and believes the denial of this Public Assembly request is in the best interest of all parties”.

KKK denied permit to burn cross atop symbolic mountain in GeorgiaAmanda Holpuch, The Guardian

This same year, the Unite the Right rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally played host to far-right factions including the Klan and neo-Nazi elements who gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Robert E. Lee. In the ensuing clashes, one person was killed when a white supremacist drove his car intentionally into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and injuring nineteen others.

2020 protest

Following the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016, the America Left saw a massive resurgence in popularity and a dramatic shift of the Overton Window. It was no longer taboo to call yourself a socialist, anarchist, or even communist. With a renewed sense of self, many leftists grew fed up with the increasingly hostile tactics of far-right factions.

Namely, showing up to protests armed with semi-automatic rifles of various calibers. The left had no recourse, as the police ignored the crimes of the far-right and showed a strong bias toward using force against left-wing demonstrators. In recent years, more and more police officers have been identified as members of far-right militias. Since the election of Joe Biden and Trump’s failed coup on January 6th, 2021, even the Pentagon has admitted to an internal struggle with far-right extremists within its own walls.

All of these factors have led to the far-left losing what faith they had in the Democratic establishment to protect them. It is no longer an uncommon sight to see American leftists armed with weaponry similar to their far-right opponents. Less-political Americans are experiencing growing anxiety over the possibility of a second Civil War.

Permission Granted

Following a 2021 denial over COVID-19, the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ permit to host a Confederate Memorial Day event at Stone Mountain has been granted. The permit was requested by Richard K. Straut, a representative of the organization and a political hopeful running for Georgia’s state Senate.

On his campaign website, Straut, a retired cop, touts his nearly three-decade career with the Atlanta Police Department and vows to never “bow to the threats and bullying tactics of the liberal mob.”

Permit approved for Confederate Memorial Day event at Stone Mountain Park — Tyler Estep, Atlanta Journal–Constitution

What Will Happen?

The NAACP has denounced this celebration, and there is already a growing number of activist groups readying to oppose the Sons of Confederate Veterans at Stone Mountain on April 30th, 2022.

Following a year of inactivity at the Klan’s historical Stone Mountain home, and the intensity of the most recent clash in 2020, many worry about this year’s demonstration. Protests seem like they have slowed, but that may not be the case.

Media fatigue is real, and when a problem persists long enough, it becomes ‘the new normal.’ The immediacy of the threat fades, and the media will shift away from constant coverage of these topics. This occurred with the surge of protests in 2020 and 2021 (when the mainstream media was already under fire for its failure to report police violence), as well as coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will the Klan make an appearance? Will the risk of armed conflict flare up again? Will this year’s protest finally convince Americans that Stone Mountain’s heritage is one of hatred for your fellow human being, and nothing more? It’s doubtful. Under a Democratic President, the US is still edging closer and closer to civil unrest and the undeniable possibility of a collapse into an authoritarian, or even fascist state.

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