Thursday, July 23, 2015

A modest proposal for the future of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Carving

I think I’ve come up with a compromise that may put an end to the controversy that surrounds the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Carving.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, the Memorial Carving, the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world, adorns the broad side of Stone Mountain, a granite-like monadnock located on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. It depicts three heroes of the Confederacy, its president, Jefferson Davis, and two of its most celebrated generals, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

The idea for such a sculpture was hatched by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1912 when Stone Mountain was pretty much a private reserve of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. It was cross-burning central.

After several attempts to get the project off the ground, the effort was abandoned in 1928. It would have remained little more than a partially completed sculpture of Lee’s head, had it not been for the Georgia General Assembly’s decision in 1960 to revive the endeavor.

I’m not quite sure how much this was an act of segregationist defiance by a yet another southern state reluctant to give up on Jim Crow or how much it was a bizarre tourist industry vision to transform the mountain and the surrounding area into an ante-bellum theme park. The line between out-and-out racism and gross racial insensitivity is a thin one sometimes.

In any event, a dedication ceremony for the Confederate Memorial Carving was held in May of 1970, which makes the monument a relatively recent addition to our cultural heritage, if you can call it that.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston last month, there have been calls, most notably by the NAACP, to have the carving removed from the side of the mountain.

Opposition to expunging the sculpture have been widespread, too. Some of it, no doubt, emanates from racist quarters or a misguided pride in the cause of the Confederacy that turns a blind eye to the fact that it was, at its core, a struggle to preserve the “special” institution of slavery.

Some of the opposition, though, has to do with not wanting to endorse a program of historical revision that comes across a lot of like the feeding of the “memory hole” described by George Orwell in his novel 1984. I can grok that.

But when it comes to a compromise for the Confederate Memorial Carving, it is memory itself that may come to the rescue.

It is a little remembered fact that Jefferson Davis decided to “hastily put on one of his wife’s dresses” in order to try to escape capture by Union forces in May of 1865. That he was still dressed this way when he was taken into custody was the source of an abundant amount of public ridicule at the time.

So, I say, instead of jettisoning Jeff from the side of Stone Mountain, dress him up in a nice period bonnet. This could be done with an installation using a frame anchored (non-destructively) in the sculpture itself, decked out with durable, brightly colored fabric.

It would serve as a visible reminder that, while these three men were heroes of the Confederacy, they were not victorious ones.

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