Last summer, my podcast co-host Travis and I did a show about the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, for our history pod “Let’s Get Weird, Sports.” We went off on a tangent about Stone Mountain, the state park that hosted competition of three Olympic events. Purchased by the State of Georgia in 1958, literally “as a memorial to the Confederacy,“ Stone Mountain Park officially opened on April 14, 1965, exactly 100 years to the day of Lincoln’s assassination (subtlety, doesn’t seem to be a Confederate thing) although the park had been in use for awhile already.
It is the most visited destination in the state of Georgia today, although most people go there for mother nature, hiking, picnicking and other outdoor activities, not for celebrating the world’s largest shrine to white supremacy.
No other podcast that we’ve ever done has elicited such an angry backlash- see the comments section. Who knew that strongly denouncing the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan, a destination that still hosts KKK rallies once a year to this day, was SO CONTROVERSIAL in 2019.
We need to talk about Stone Mountain, right now, in this moment because we’re seeing not just Confederate monuments, but also shrines to racism and slavery, topple with warp speed.
In Richmond, Robert E. Lee is coming down, legally, via government means while Jefferson Davis was ripped down by the people. In Indianapolis, Louisville, Birmingham, and Mobile, Confederate statues are being removed.
It feels like it’s happening rapidly right now, but that’s not entirely accurate. We had this conversation in 2017, in 2015, and in many years prior. The second toppling of the Confederacy is 155 years in the making, and that’s what makes this moment in history so absurd.
The same crowd that rails the hardest against participation trophies seems to be willing to die on a hill of protecting them.
Try explaining this to someone from a foreign country:
There are at least two organizations (United Daughters of the Confederacy and the KKK) dedicated to glamorizing the LOSERS of the Civil War.
There are statues and monuments dedicated to those losers, even in states that fought AGAINST them.
The flag of the losers is still waved, and it’s waved by people who also carry the flag of the Union that defeated them and these Confederate flag wavers can’t understand the paradox.
We also we have at least 10 military bases named after leaders of the treasonous and ultimately crushed insurrection AGAINST the U.S. military.
None of these things make any sense, at all, but it does perfectly convey just how much systemic racism is deeply entretched in America, and always has been.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, over 1,700 Confederate monuments, many in states that fought against the Confederacy, still exist today.
That’s largely the work of the UDC, a shadowy, mostly obscure organization that is profiled in detail, in this must read 2018 piece from the Daily Beast.
Since the UDC’s founding in 1894, the elite white Southern ladies’ group has dedicated itself to erecting Confederate monuments around the country and, in more recent years, quietly ensuring those markers remain standing. They have been the single most effective propagandists for the Lost Cause myth, an alternative-fact-ridden version of history that denies slavery as the central cause of the Civil War while also insisting that slavery was a mutually beneficial institution—a win-win for both enslavers and the enslaved.
UDC textbooks have taught generations of Southern children that the Confederacy—a nation whose founders were unequivocal about its cornerstone being white superiority and black enslavement—was a valiant and valorous cause.
The Lost Cause myth is powerful, and much more impactful than people realize. The book and movie “Gone With the Wind” is perhaps the most influential single example of its message reaching a mass audience. The issue of HBO removing/keeping it in their library of movies isn’t anything really worth feeling all that strongly about.
Ditto for NASCAR finally banning the Confederate flag. While they are absolutely doing the right thing here, it’s doubtful that it will make much difference in their TV ratings and/or raceday attendance. A lot of keyboard tough guys will make some noise about how they’re done with with the sport now, because of this, but those dudes don’t actually like auto racing to begin with.
Which brings us to the next point- any time you write or tweet anything against Confederate propaganda, even today in 2020, you will get at least one angry reply or commenter. They’re fast too, and that’s what makes this so odd.
They won’t tell you why the real reason why these monuments were made- to intimidate and frighten people of color. It’s not about history. If you want to learn history- READ!
These memorials are often placed near courthouses and government buildings in order to send a message that white people are still in charge and in control, regardless of what happened at Appomattox in 1865.
A detailed description of what is at Stone Mountain, via its Wikipedia page:
The largest bas-relief sculpture in the world, the Confederate Memorial Carving depicts three Confederate leaders of the Civil War: President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson (and their favorite horses, Blackjack, Traveller, and Little Sorrel, respectively).
The artist and sculptor had extensive Klan ties, with one of the main benefactors a charter member of the UDC. The original vision for the sculpture called for including the KKK. (okay, I guess they have SOME degree of shame, maybe)
Basically, the UDC (approximately 25,000 strong to this day) is like the female version of the Klan, but they focus on disinformation and misinformation campaigns, instead of physical terrorist action.
Both are truly terrorist organizations though. Going back to The Daily Beast:
The group also put some serious effort into lauding and normalizing the KKK, which was also in the midst of a membership explosion.
“The UDC always had ties to the Klan,” says Heidi Christensen, former president of the Seattle UDC chapter who quit the group in 2012. “But the connection became more overt in the 1910s. You’ve got Birth of a Nation, and then the second rising of the Klan, and you see [the UDC] openly revering the KKK and defending them as saviors of the white southern race during Reconstruction. Those things made it clear they were loyal to the Klan and saw them as heroes. And in some ways [the UDC was] sort of like the KKK’s more feminine, genteel sister organization.”
Yes, SEATTLE of all places, even had a UDC chapter. So what do we do with Stone Mountain today?
Well, a 2015 MoveOn.org petition says we should see Atlanta icons Big Boi and Andre 3000 of OutKast riding in a Cadillac carved into the mountainside. While that’s actually a humorously intended petition, they need to sandblast away those 3 vile bigoted traitors yesterday.
Get that done, now, and we’ll worry about who replaces the disgraceful triad later. How Germany has handled their Nazi sites is a great guide to what America should do with their Confederate propaganda.
The relief sculpture is 42 feet deep and placed 400 feet high in the nearly 1,700 foot high mountain. It’s larger than Mt. Rushmore and the mother of all Confederate monuments. It was completed and dedicated in 1972, with then Vice President Spiro Agnew even in attendance. Remove this atrocious monstrosity now, and the rest of the Confederate monuments will soon follow.
To defeat a vile, poisonous snake, one must first sever the head.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TV, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Now and SB Nation.
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Filed under: Current Events