I spent my childhood in the shadow of a large monument to the Confederacy. We often walked through the woods from our neighborhood to Stone Mountain Park. We spent many a night in the summer at the Laser Show, watching laser images projected over Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee. My first job was as a train conductor, riding around the base of the mountain. I even fell off the train while trying to impress a girl (which is a totally different story for a different time).
Following the Charleston church shooting in 2015 and the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, politicians, religious leaders and community leaders called for the monument to be taken off the side of the mountain. Predictability, this sparked strong passion from those who believe differently about the carving and other such monuments to the confederacy. “It’s heritage, not hate; We can’t just erase our history.”
A little research will tell you that the carving on Stone Mountain has very little to do with heritage and a lot to do with hate. The Klan held regular rallies not far from the entrance to Stone Mountain. The Venable brothers, who owned the mountain at the time the carving was conceived, were leaders of these Klan rallies and their family continued organizing these until they were stopped in the early 1960s. Although the carving was not completed until the early 1970s, it’s beginning was rooted in the desire to purpurate and advance racial oppression.
I confess that as a child I never stopped to think about what one of my best friends as a child, who is African-American, thought every time he looked at the mountain and saw these three figures who believed he was less than human because of the color of his skin. I’ve thought a lot about this in recent years. I know that I was treated differently than him because of my skin color. In many ways, I’m still treated differently today because of the color of my skin. The lingering effect of the racism and hate spawned by the Confederacy is a root cause of this treatment.
The three people represented on the side of the mountain and in countless other statues across the land sought to tear our union asunder so that they could continue to oppress people based on their skin color. The pain they caused is still manifest in people’s lives, in our communities, and in our institutions. Their cause has been taken up by new groups who have the same heinous beliefs and disregard for God’s children.
Here is the thing about monuments to the Confederacy. They aren’t erected to remember heritage. They aren’t even erected to so that we might remember history. They are erected to remind the oppressed who always has been in charge. They are erected to remind the powerless who has traditionally held power. They are built to remind the oppressed that their oppressors are still lurking just around the corner.
We should remember our history. It doesn’t mean we have to honor it.