King at Stone Mountain Park?

Moderated by Rick Badie

Stone Mountain Park, a family fun park for locals and international visitors, finds itself in the thick of a racial conflict — whether to erect a “freedom bell” on the site dedicated to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Today’s guest writers opine on whether the 3,200-acre park is a suitable location for a King tribute.

Find a solution to racist symbols at Stone Mountain

By Vincent Fort

Things changed on June 17.

The Charleston massacre at Emmanuel AME Church changed forever how we as Americans consider racist symbolism in our country. Symbols matter. They were used to motivate and justify the heinous actions of the terrorist who gunned down nine worshippers.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a conservative Republican, understood this. That is why she organized the legislative initiative to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia. That is why families of the slain stood with Haley as she signed the legislation into law. That is why the time has come for leaders in Georgia to find a solution to this issue.

For this to happen, the issue of Confederate symbols has to be dealt with forthrightly. Unfortunately, there have been straw-man arguments made regarding the removal of Confederate symbols at Stone Mountain Park.

Those who disagree with Georgia sponsoring Confederate symbols on state property do not want to abridge anyone’s First Amendment right to honor their “heritage.” If any Georgians want to enshrine the memories of their ancestors on their private property as they see fit, that is their right.

What is debatable is whether traitors, slave owners and defenders of slavery ought to be enshrined on public property with public dollars. In addition, there has been an emphasis on the impracticality of removing the carvings from the mountain. Civil rights activists understand removing the carvings is an unwieldy proposition.

There has been a proposal to add a bell tower to Stone Mountain to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s call “to let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia” in his famous 1963 speech to the March on Washington. It is a call that continues to be an uplifting message for all Americans.

Placing the bell tower on a memorial that is the centerpiece of a giant, state-sponsored memorial to the Confederacy, however, demeans King, his legacy and the cause for which he sacrificed his life.

This would create a false equivalency between people whose cause was perpetuating one of the worst atrocities in human history — widespread, racially targeted slavery for the profit of others — with a man who sparked and led the effort to eliminate vestiges of that atrocity and the continuing oppression of African-Americans in the South through Jim Crow and voter disfranchisement laws. That kind of false equivalency does not serve us well.

That the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a proponent of preserving and promoting the “legacy” of the Confederacy, would equate the Confederacy and its cause of defending slavery with King and his cause — which advocated that every person be judged by the content of his or her character rather than the color of his or her skin — is a clear illustration why a monument to King at the top of the Stone Mountain Memorial is wrong.

Remember, the SCV is not just any old organization. Gov. Nathan Deal recently reaffirmed our state’s decision to associate with and financially support them with a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle emblem. (A recent redesign of the tag eliminated the larger, background image of the Rebel emblem while retaining a small version of it in the foreground.)

I am drafting a bill to introduce in the 2016 legislative session that will eliminate the state’s use of Confederate symbols. It would remove Confederate street and plaza names at Stone Mountain Memorial Park. It would also eliminate SCV’s right to a license plate and remove Confederate symbols from the state Capitol.

I am calling on Governor Deal to show leadership on this issue the same way Governor Haley did in South Carolina. He should realize that removing one Confederate symbol from a specialty license plate while allowing a second symbol to remain is a half measure that is no measure at all. A viable solution without false equivalencies needs to be worked out before the legislative session begins. That way, precious legislative time will not be devoted to a debate on hateful symbols, and a discussion of boycotts will not be needed.

Senator Vincent Fort, a Democrat, represents District 39.

Carve, claim a new legacy at Stone Mountain

By Hank Johnson

“Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.” – The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Those hallowed words of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, uttered more than 50 years ago to more than 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, was a defining moment of the civil rights movement. It pushed Stone Mountain and Georgia into the spotlight and forced us all to reflect where we stood on the question of equality, justice and civil rights for everyone.

Fast forward 52 years. Stone Mountain State Park has evolved into a world-renowned tourist mecca that attracts an internationally diverse group of visitors who come to enjoy the park’s many amenities. Stone Mountain is no longer the state and national bastion of racism and symbol of white supremacy that it once was as the epicenter for the 1915 resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

Although Ku Klux Klan supporters, white supremacist groups and Confederate battle flag enthusiasts are guaranteed the constitutional right to assemble at Stone Mountain to celebrate their legacy, they do so alongside diverse people walking, jogging, bicycling and climbing the mountain, those celebrating family reunions and church picnics, and those who come to see the giant carving on the side of the mountain while enjoying the laser show with family and friends.

Moreover, with its hotels, convention center and two golf courses that attract community, state and national business and non-profits, Stone Mountain Park has become a hub of commercial activity. It’s important to the economies of the minority-majority city of Stone Mountain and to DeKalb County, and to the economic vitality of the 4th Congressional District and the entire state of Georgia.

Stone Mountain’s divisive and painful history can never be obliterated or sandblasted away. All should recognize that now is the time to claim a new legacy and carve a new narrative.

I understand and respect the NAACP, the civil rights community and Confederate enthusiasts for their opposition to a King memorial at Stone Mountain. But as the congressman who represents the district around the famous mountain, I take the larger view.

What better way to symbolize such a legacy than to etch onto Stone Mountain a lasting memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which would coexist with symbols of the Confederacy defeated in part by the movement he led? A memorial to King would be a fitting tribute to the progress this state and nation have made towards the achievement of “The Dream,” and it would help boost park attendance.

As former congressman, U.S. ambassador, mayor, civil rights legend and King confidant Andrew Young said, “The symbolism of having a Freedom Bell on Stone Mountain to honor Dr. King would be wonderful.” He went on to say it’s not just a good idea; it’s a necessary idea to pull our nation and state together.

I agree.

When I attended the Confederate flag rally at Stone Mountain this summer, I went to see for myself how many people would show up to support what I’ve always seen as a symbol of racism and hate. People I met and spoke with challenged me to have a deeper understanding of those who think differently than I do, and reinforced for me that we need to continue to work to reach common ground.

A memorial to Dr. King that gives visitors a fuller picture of our story is not just the right thing to do, but gets us closer to that common ground of understanding. Freedom rings from Stone Mountain! It’s time for all to see and hear the Bell of Liberty at a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. monument atop Stone Mountain.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat, represents Georgia’s 4th Congressional District.

Put King on Stone Mountain

By Ed Williams

Many knew of this man named King, but did not understand him or his dream.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. believed man was capable of change and that old traditions and prejudices can be transformed. So I start with the simple proposition so eloquently stated by George Bernard Shaw: “Other people see things and say why? But I dream things that never were and I say, why not?”

I do not believe King would be opposed to being in the company of his enemy. King said if you want to say something about him, “say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

A monument representing peace should not be delayed because of a symbol of oppression and race supremacy is on the side of Stone Mountain. It is all the more reason why the monument should go atop the mountain. It would symbolize that peace and justice triumphed over oppression and racism.

Any symbol that represented hate, oppression and racism should be removed from our public facilities, in particular Stone Mountain. Some would say you cannot legislate morality or stop people from having their own symbols of speech. I believe in freedom of speech. However, I believe the carving should be placed somewhere else, not on public property. I also believe that history should not be erased, and justice shall not be delayed.

The Confederate carving was first started in 1923 and completed and dedicated in 1972. In fact, Stone Mountain used to be private property; it was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1958.

I do not see anything wrong with putting a monument of King on Stone Mountain, even if the Confederate carving is not removed. It would be a testament to the progress that has been made in our country. A symbol of the son of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners can share the common grounds of Stone Mountain. There are many places in America that have monuments of opposing ideas and philosophies in a common location.

King challenged us to not be bitter and not to hate. He said, “We should meet physical force with soul force,” and that “we won’t be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Where we live today in many instances still determines the quality of life and opportunities that we have. We still seek today, “the riches of freedom and security of justice.” We are still segregated in our homes, places of worship and too many of our schools. We have freedom today, but so many of our people are lost with no direction.

An idea does not have color or gender. We cannot change history, but we can make our future better than our past. It is man’s grace that allows him to conquer fear with love, and to share his blessings.

Ed Williams, chairman of Concerned Citizens for Effective Government, lives in Decatur.

 

 


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