One Man’s Opinion, “Addition, Versus Subtraction, Along with Compromise,” Tuesday, April 27, 2021
For centuries it was a sacred Indian burial ground. Later the site of one of the most commercially viable granite quarries in the nation, with its granite now forming the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, one side of the U.S. Capitol building, and the walls of Fort Knox. And since 1958, the world’s largest granite out-cropping has been a Georgia State Park and Confederate Memorial.
Stone Mountain Park in east DeKalb County and its vast 3,400 acres of green space, is Georgia’s most visited destination, and in more recent years a site of seemingly never-ending controversy and debate.
The combination of COVID19 and heated debate over all Confederate symbology have taken a business toll on the park. During 2o19, park revenues were $49-million, and by 2020 they were down to $22-million, a decline of 56 percent. The pandemic took out Snow Mountain, crowded spring and summer festivals and days at the park and the Confederate controversy cost long-standing corporate sponsors and partnerships including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, and Humana Healthcare. In 2022, Herschend Family Entertainment, the Master Franchisor who manages parks attractions and restaurants will also be leaving the park, as will global hotelier, Marriott.
Cognizant of those hard business facts, as well as the real pain and visions of white supremacy and racism which some associate with all aspects of the Confederacy, a rebalancing is needed, at the very least, to make the park more welcoming and attractive to a broader cross-section of Georgians and visitors from around the world.
The SMMA is a gubernatorial appointed state authority, nine volunteers, who oversee and manage the infrastructure and public safety aspects of Stone Mountain Park. Governor Brian Kemp last week promoted one member to Chair and appointed a new member. Both are African-American, the Reverend Abraham Mosley becomes Chair officially at the board’s first meeting since November 2020, due to the pandemic, and Christopher Sanders, the Executive Director of the East Metro CID will also take his seat. Previous Black members of this board include Hank Aaron, William Chapelle, Gregory Levett, and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond. From his first board meeting on Monday, April 26, 2021, a state holiday formerly known as Confederate Memorial Day, it would appear that Reverend Mosley is coming to the table with a plan.
In August of 2020, the SMMA board tasked its CEO, Bill Stephens as well as park staff, to come back to them with research and data on viable updates, upgrades, and potential re-branding concepts for the park. The board has now received that report, including a lengthy list of proposed additions to the park:
- Consolidation of the Confederate memorials and aspects of the park into 40-50 acres surrounding Memorial Hall and the carving
- Securing and relocating the Confederate Flag Plaza, now at the foot of the walk-up trail, to Valor Park, under the southeast corner of the carving
- A museum exhibit in Memorial Hall, giving an honest re-telling of the history of the mountain carving, acknowledging the early involvement of the Klu Klux Klan
- Construction of a Faith & Freedom Chapel atop Stone Mountain
- Renaming of the offices of the SMMA, now Confederate Hall, as Heritage Hall
- Renaming several park roadways, paths and trails, ponds and lakes, and other assets in the honor of a wider array of prominent Georgians in history
- A new logo for the SMMA, featuring the mountain silhouette and natural setting, instead of the carving and Confederate leaders
Significant subtractions at the park or the complete removal of memorials would likely only re-open deep wounds and further the re-litigation of the Civil War.
I do not know how the final choices will land, and if all aspects of this plan will stand, but I do know that Stone Mountain itself is not going anywhere, nor its smaller siblings nearby of Arabia and Panola Mountains. The communities surrounding all three outcroppings are predominantly African American, as are park users on any given day, each walking, jogging, biking, hiking, or recreating with friends and family. A visit to this great green space, the largest in metro Atlanta will tell you on most any day that the battle is raging outside the park, not inside it. We wish the Reverend Mosley, SMMA Board, and Mr. Stephens the best of luck as well as our goodwill, and hope you will consider doing the same. We could all use a bit more common ground and compromise to stand on, as well as the common sense to appreciate the value in that.