Stone Mountain Park to feature exhibit aiming to tell Confederate monument's 'whole complicated story'

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association is making changes to tell the "whole complicated story" of the park, including a new exhibit that will acknowledge the Confederate monument's past.

The association voted Monday to approve the creation of an exhibit Stone Mountain Park's in Memorial Hall that will tell the history of the monument, no matter how unpleasant. The exhibit will reflect the site’s role in the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, which infamously held a cross burning atop Stone Mountain on Thanksgiving night 1915.

The NAACP has called for the colossal carving of Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson on the mountain’s northern face to be removed, but the park board's chair says that may be a bridge too far. 

"You're not going to please everybody, but we're trying to get where we need to go," the board’s first African American chair, the Rev. Abraham Mosley, said. "I don't know what it's going to take to appease folks, but we have to come together, one way or another."

Gerald Griggs, Vice President of Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP, said there's not enough acknowledgment of African American history at the park. 

"I'm shocked and appalled at what we saw here today; we saw them whitewash history," Griggs said. "There's been no inclusion of the African Americans that have been a part of this nation for generations. They say we'll get an exhibit and maybe a bridge, that's about it. The people have been resolute about removing all symbols of the Confederacy."

The vote is set against a backdrop of monuments to the Confederacy coming down in Georgia and across the U.S., sparked by calls to reckon with American society's racial inequities and injustices

Proposals to make changes to Stone Mountain Park were discussed in April. 

RELATED: Confederate monument being removed from downtown Athens

Some of the changes included acknowledging the Ku Klux Klan activity that took place, changing the Confederate horseman logo of the park and renaming some streets, lakes and trails.

The park is also facing declining revenue due to the pandemic and confederate controversy. 

"Economically, we cannot stay where we are. Change is inevitable. We can either take charge of it or we can wave a white flag," said Bill Stephens, Stone Mountain Memorial Association CEO in April.

A member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who spoke at Monday’s meeting said maintaining the carving at Stone Mountain is not racist but a way to honor the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. Eric Cleveland said he did not have a big problem with the changes the board approved, calling them a "compromise," but he said they would embolden critics.

"These people will not stop until our history is completely erased," he said.

Over the years, the park has been the site of white supremacist protests and counter-protests

The park 15 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta is a popular hiking and tourist destination but is smattered with Confederate imagery. It is the largest Confederate monument ever crafted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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