Rising like a monolith from the rolling hills around Atlanta is the storied quartz dome of Stone Mountain. And into its broadest side is the tremendous Confederate carving which remains the world’s largest bas relief sculpture and has been called the Confederate Mount Rushmore. It features Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis; and Mt. Rushmore’s Gutzon Borglum was
The mountain isn’t massive, but it seems so out of place, jutting high into the sky above the flat expanse surrounding Atlanta. We had originally planned a quick hike up the mountain, but where we parked, we were a long way from the trail’s entrance. But, since we were right next to the sky ride, who are we to argue with fate. We forked over $9 each for the ride and within a few minutes had reached the summit.
Once there, it felt like we were on top of the world. The mountain is smooth and cracked, otherworldly, and dotted with bright green trees and tiny pools of captured rain water. Even with the crowd, the mountain was quite beautiful, a natural wonder.
But unfortunately, the history of Stone Mountain cannot be told without its intertwined Ku Klux Klan history. In 1915, a new, more militant, aggressive and terror-driven incarnation of the Klan was created atop the mountain, beneath the light of a burning cross. The mountain’s owner at the time, Samuel Venable, attended the ceremony and formally granted permission to the KKK to use the property for celebrations indefinitely as long as he owned the land surrounding the property. His racist and secessionist views were well known and when the Daughters of the Confederacy approached him with their idea for a confederate monument, he quickly deeded the face of the mountain to them.
The carving itself was to take only 12 years, with the mountain and the rights reverting back to Venable if not complete. When it failed to meet the deadline, the land reverted back to the Venable family, and sat dormant for 40 years. In the 1960s, the state of Georgia – at the height of the civil rights movement mind you – restarted the work and moved toward completion. It seems such a remarkable, if not sad, commentary on the South’s backward view of progress so much so that Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I have a dream” speech called the mountain out by name: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!”
Of course, today, Stone Mountain is more about family fun than political commentary. It’s little more than a fun state park with a beautiful geological marvel at its center, but it’s hard to ignore the three generals marching off to the front lines to defend a nation founded on slavery.