Is it time to put away the war between the states? Yes, it is. It’s way past time.
The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, just over 150 years ago. Americans fighting Americans cost us over 750,000 lives—more than WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and both Iraq Wars combined. And we’re still fighting the war.
The State of Georgia owns an enormous chunk of rock just outside of Atlanta in DeKalb County called Stone Mountain. On the face of that mountain is the world’s largest bas relief sculpture. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis are depicted on horseback, in full uniform, holding their hats over their hearts.
Georgia’s legislature passed a law to create the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to manage the park and memorial, “as a Confederate memorial and public recreational area” (O.C.G.A. § 12-3-191). Legally, this chunk of rock, that has supplied granite for the steps of the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Treasury building, is set aside as a memorial to those who fought for slavery, after it was bought by a racist whose wish was to honor Confederate leaders in a manner consistent with U.S. presidents.
Now the Stone Mountain Memorial Association wants to soften its history by installing a tower in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It is one of the best-known speeches in U.S. history,” said Bill Stephens, the chief executive officer of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. “We think it’s a great addition to the historical offerings we have here.”
The “freedom bell” will, in fact, sound from the mountaintop. How often, or when, hasn’t been determined.
Also in the works at the state-owned, privately operated park: a permanent exhibit on African-American soldiers in the Civil War.
But the Sons of Confederate Veterans opposes the idea, citing the law proclaiming the park as a Confederate memorial.
The act of the General Assembly which created the Stone Mountain Memorial Association specifically states the park, including both the mountain and all adjacent property, is to be maintained and operated as a Confederate memorial (OCGA 12-3-191). The erection of monuments to anyone other than Confederate heroes in Stone Mountain Park is in contradistinction to the purpose for which the park exists and would make it a memorial to something different. The park was never intended to be a memorial to multiple causes but solely to the Confederacy. Therefore, monuments to either Michael King or soldiers of any color who fought against the Confederacy would be a violation of the purpose for which the park was created and exists. The opinions of the park’s current neighbors and opponents are of no bearing in the discussion.
Listen, I’m no fan of political correctness and hair-trigger victimhood based on events more than a century ago. The Crusades no more have bearing on today’s Christianity than slavery has on today’s white Americans. Pretending that there’s some preternatural advantage given to people based on their race because of what their ancestors did is nothing but superstitious rubbish and race-baiting. It leads to hatred, distrust and division.
But ideas do matter. Slavery is wrong, and it was just as wrong in 1865 as it is now. The Confederate States of America fought for the right to own other human beings. Regardless of whatever other historical reasons people give for the Civil War, slavery was the overarching moral issue of the time.
Therefore, no matter how honorable, or Christlike, or brilliant General Robert E. Lee or Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson might have been in their lives, they fought for the wrong side.
Not only that, but the history of the mountain itself and the family that bought it in the late 1800’s is unquestionably racist.
The mountain was leased to the state by the Venable family, and finally sold in 1958. Sam Venable was a well known leader in the Ku Klux Klan, and it was his idea to have Gutzon Borglum—who famously sculpted the presidential faces on Mount Rushmore—carve the mountain to honor the Confederate leaders.
The purpose of Stone Mountain was without a doubt, to honor slavery and the fight for it.
I’m not advocating destroying the sculpture, as the NAACP called for. What’s there is there, but it should be used for education and remembrance of what’s right and what’s wrong.
At the risk of violating Godwin’s Law, let’s use Nazi death camps as an example. Auschwitz is maintained as a memorial to the Jews and others incinerated in its ovens, but nobody has gone in and eradicated all the symbols of the Nazi regime, like the famous gate over its entrance. But on the other hand, if the government of Poland passed a law providing for Auschwitz as a memorial to Hitler, Himmler and Rommel, dressed in full military uniform, the world would react in horror. Even if the monument included Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, who led the plot to assassinate Hitler, it wouldn’t matter. Regardless of von Stauffenberg’s honorable intentions, he fought for the side that murdered six million Jews. It would just be inappropriate.
Lee wasn’t an evil man. Jackson was a professor of philosophy at Virginia Military Institute. Some people would eradicate everything named after Lee (like Fort Lee in Virginia), or close VMI because Jackson taught there. There’s Democrats who now repudiate their annual Jefferson-Jackson dinners because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves (he emancipated them). That’s infantile. But we should recognize that the men on Stone Mountain fought for the wrong side. Jeff Davis was a slaveowner and fought for the right to own slaves. Lee and Jackson led men into battle under the banner of states fighting for slavery.
The fact that Georgia has a law on the books preserving Stone Mountain as a Confederate monument puts Georgia in the same place Poland would be in if Auschwitz was a monument to von Stauffenberg or Rommel. There’s no honor in preserving an idea that’s evil.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association is right to make Stone Mountain into an educational and recreational location. But first, the legislature has some cleanup to do. They must repeal the law designating the land as a Confederate memorial, and instead make it a testament to the South’s ability to move past the Civil War.
It’s time for Georgia to stop honoring slavery.
(crossposted from sgberman.com)