Long-sought changes may be coming to state-owned Stone Mountain Park as officials search for middle ground in the raging debate over the Confederate tributes found throughout the park.
Under pressure from advocates pushing for a transformed park and from corporate sponsors, park officials have proposed a plan that would move the Confederate flags near the carving and expand exhibition space to make room for a more complete story about the massive Confederate monument etched onto the side of Stone Mountain.
Bill Stephens, the CEO of the park, said the museum would highlight “the good, the bad and the ugly” about the carving. He said the changes, which would also include a new “faith and freedom” chapel perched on top the monadnock, could cost at least $1.2 million if the board approves the plan next month.
But the carving – America’s largest monument to the confederacy – would remain as is under the proposal. State law protects the carving, which was publicly dedicated in 1970 following decades of setbacks after the United Daughters of the Confederacy first pitched the idea.
“Some people look at the carving and see heritage. Other people look at the carving and see hate. But the truth of the matter is it’s a very complex story,” Stephens told the board Monday. “The carving is three acres of solid granite on the side of the mountain, and it’s really not going anywhere, so we need to tell its story.”
State Rep. Billy Mitchell, a Stone Mountain Democrat, has sponsored a measure that would give the board more leeway. He urged the board to adopt the changes announced Monday, but to go further.
“Those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it, but I want to add a second verse to that and that is those who learn from their history and don’t make amends to the errors are just doomed,” Mitchell said.
Under the proposal, some street signs could soon honor “significant” Georgians but Robert E. Lee Boulevard and other streets honoring Confederate leaders would still adorn the park’s major streets. The board could also adopt a new logo that focuses on the natural landscape of the park rather than the carving and change Confederate Hall to Heritage Hall.
The proposal was publicly unveiled Monday at Stone Mountain Park as the Rev. Abraham Mosley presided over his first meeting as chairman. Mosley, who is the board’s first Black chairman, was appointed to the role by Gov. Brian Kemp last week. Park officials had said in November that they would review ideas for rethinking the Confederate symbols.
Mosley called the proposal that emerged Monday a “good start” after the meeting.
“There are a lot of other things that I want to see, and I know the community wants to see, but we got to start somewhere,” Mosley told reporters. “We’ve been just spinning the wheel, so hopefully, we can get something concrete and start in the right direction.”
Mosley declined to elaborate on what other changes he would like to see, but he also said it is unlikely any future alterations at the park would diminish the carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and generals Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on horseback with their hats over their hearts.
The meeting drew a divided crowd and an increased law enforcement presence at the entrances of the park’s meeting hall. Last year, protesters clashed in the streets of the city of Stone Mountain after the park closed ahead of a white supremacist rally.
Advocates pressed the board to do more – some calling on the board to remove the carving – while members of the Georgia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans opposed changes.
“We are calling for the three Confederate figures on the mountain to be re-sculptured,” said Teresa Hardy, president of the DeKalb County chapter of the NAACP. “We’re calling for all references to be eradicated from the street names and other designated facilities. We are also asking that this park be repurposed.”
Tim Pilgrim with the Sons of Confederate Veterans offered a counter proposal Monday and pushed for the board to embrace “heritage tourism” that he said would allow visitors to be transported back to an earlier time.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association recently denied the group’s permit to hold a Confederate Memorial Day celebration at the park, although the group still rode through on motorcycles. In the past, Monday would have been recognized as Confederate Memorial Day in Georgia.
“They come here to see the antebellum South. They want to see soldiers. They want to see period characters. They want to see living history demonstrations. They want to see Gone with the Wind, Tara. They want to see Brer Rabbit … and this is especially true for foreign visitors,” Pilgrim said.