(Stone Mountain) If some statues of slave owners have been overthrown by demonstrators or dismantled by the authorities, the most important Confederate monument ever erected should remain in place for a long time.
Kate Brumback and Russ Bynum
The three oversized sculptures of Stone Mountain – the southern equivalent of Mount Rushmore – are protected under the law of the State of Georgia. They represent three notable figures of Confederation: President Jefferson Davis, Commander-in-Chief Robert Lee and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
And even if the demolition of this monument were authorized, its very size would represent an immense challenge. It measures 58 meters in length by 27 meters high. An old photo shows a worker on scaffolding just below Lee's chin. He barely reaches his nose.
Stone Mountain has not escaped the attention of those who protest against racial injustice.
After having organized a demonstration which attracted thousands of people in the neighboring city of Atlanta, Zoe Bambara organized on June 4 a much more restricted rally – his permit only allowed him a maximum of 25 people – inside the State Park where the monument has attracted millions of tourists for several decades.
“The Confederation does not celebrate the South; it celebrates white supremacy. says M me Bambara, a young black girl from 19 years. These people represented on this mountain, they hated me. They didn't know me, but they hated me and my ancestors. It hurts to see that these people are being honored and that a memorial has been dedicated to them. “
M me Bambara recognizes however that she does not know what fate should be reserved for monument, designed fifty years after the end of the American Civil War, but which was not completed until 1972.
Its creators used dynamite to blow up huge pieces of granite and then spent years using a blowtorch to sculpt the detailed figures.
Erasing the sculptures would be dangerous, long and costly.
The president of the Atlanta geological society, Ben Bentkowki, believes that the stone is too hard to be sanded. Controlled explosions using TNT wrapped in holes drilled into the mountainside could work, he believes.
“Because of logistics and security, I guess the budget for such an operation would exceed $ 1 million,” said Bentkowski. We will need insurance for the project, we will need to pay a risk premium to people working on the surface. It could easily take a year or more. “
There is also a significant legal obstacle.
In 2001, when Georgian legislators voted to change the flag of the state with the Confederate emblem, they added elements to guarantee the preservation of the Stone Mountain monument.
By law, “the memorial to the heroes of the Confederate States of America engraved on Stone Mountain will never be altered, removed, hidden or obscured in any way.”
Ryan Gravel, an urban planner from Atlanta, notes that the maintenance of the monument is not included in the law. According to him, it is enough to allow nature to take its course, to let the vegetation develop.
The Republican governor of the state, Brian Kemp, did not comment on the question when he met the journalists, the 26 June.
“As I have said many times, we cannot hide from our history,” said Kemp, while noting the new hate crime law he ratified the same day. is an important step in the fight against racial injustice.
Stone Mountain is not the site of any battle. Its historical importance is insignificant. But 50 years after the end of the war, the idea of a memorial arose in the minds of the girls United States.
The organizer hired in 1915 the sculptor Gutzon Borglum – the one who created Mount Rushmore – to design a monument.
This era also marked the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Stone Mountain was an important theater. A cross burned on the top of the mountain the night of Thanksgiving.
Budgetary problems slowed down work until Georgia bought the mountain and surrounding land to build a public park there 1958.
We think that 10 00 0 people attended the inauguration of the monument in 1970. Another two years passed before its official completion.
Five decades later, Stone Mountain Park presents itself as a family theme park rather than a sanctuary from the myth of the “lost cause” which romances the Confederation as chivalrous defenders of the rights of states. Its website highlights miniature golf and a dinosaur-themed attraction while minimizing the Confederate monument, Confederate flags and brick terraces dedicated to each of the Confederation states.
“The mountain itself is breathtakingly beautiful and the sculpture monument is a marvel of engineering” exclaims a white tourist from 70 years old, Paula Smith, who rejects the idea of modifying the monument.
Jarvis Jones climbs the steep hiking trail behind Stone Mountain several times a week. The 27 year old black man says he is trying to avoid seeing the sculpture.
“I really understand that everyone wants their story to be represented,” said Jones. But when it comes to the oppression of others, I think it has to change. “