Stone Mountain symbolizes nostalgia for an overtly racist past

When people talk of making American great again, the obvious question to ask them would be when they thought it was great in the past, but few reporters do. One audience member at a rally did ask this to Alabama pervert Republican candidate for senate Roy Moore at a rally back in September. Moore spoke about his longing for a return to the days when slavery still existed.

At Moore’s Florence rally, the former judge outlined all the wrongs he sees in Washington and “spiritual wickedness in high places.” He warned of “the awful calamity of abortion and sodomy and perverse behavior and murders and shootings and road rage” as “a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins.”

In response to a question from one of the only African Americans in the audience — who asked when Moore thought America was last “great” — Moore acknowledged the nation’s history of racial divisions, but said: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.

This yearning for a mythical time when people were all supposedly happy and united despite the reality that it was wretched for most people seems to be quite widespread. Not having grown up in the US, I am not fully aware of all the ramifications of its racist history and so I did not know about Stone Mountain in Georgia, where a large rock was carved with the images of three major figures of the Confederacy: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. It became the rallying point for the Ku Klux Klan and a large part of the dubious credit for its creation goes to the women of the confederacy, whose role in trying to perpetuate slavery has not received as much attention as the men, and even to this day is revered by the KKK and is a tourist attraction with laser light shows and the works.

Shaun King and Sierra Pettengill at The Intercept give us the dark history of Stone Mountain as an introduction to a short documentary Graven Image (see below) produced by Field_Of_Vision, the film arm of First Look Media, the parent company of The Intercept, that also gave us the chilling documentary A Night at the Garden about big fascist rally held in New York City in 1939.

In 1916, a year after the KKK hosted a cross burning on Stone Mountain to announce their resurgence, plans moved forward to grossly deface the dome with a gargantuan 1.57-acre wide carving honoring the Confederacy. While it is true that many horrible men sustained and advanced systemic racism in the United States, the central roles played by many white women in advancing Jim Crow are drastically under-told. In “Graven Image,” however, the central role of women in making the mountain a monument for bigots is not overlooked. Pettengill shows us these white women in archival footage, seated in lace dresses, sewing a Confederate flag.

It was Caroline Helen Jemison Plane, the president of the Atlanta chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who convinced the owners of the property to give the United Daughters of the Confederacy access to the mountain. Forming the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association, Plane’s original vision was for the mountain to feature the KKK alongside Confederate generals.

From 1916 until the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the carving proceeded in fits and starts, always with the foundational support of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. And what never stopped was the usage of the mountain as a gathering ground for racists.

Stone Mountain was not made into the world’s largest monument to the Confederacy because it had anything at all to do with the Confederacy, it was done because the horribly racist people who bought it — and loved for it to be a meeting place for the KKK — knew full well that nothing would make their racist worldview more known than such a monument.

The KKK continues to use Stone Mountain for their gatherings to this very day. It makes perfect sense: Few places in the entire country have done more to make them feel more at home.

Stone Mountain was Charlottesville before Charlottesville. For generations, it has been the place where insecure white men put on costumes and walk around aimlessly with torches, in an effort to intimidate all who see their tomfoolery. Yet elected leaders in Georgia continue to embrace Stone Mountain’s painful past and refuse to even consider blasting away the monument and taking the entire park back to the way it was over 349 million years ago.

You can see the full 10-minute film.


  1. Owlmirror says

    This yearning for a mythical time when people were all supposedly happy and united despite the reality that it was wretched for most people seems to be quite widespread.

    I’m baffled as to why Moore thinks families were “united” when one of the many things decried about slavery was that slaveowners broke up families; selling husbands and wives away from each other, and splitting children off from parents and siblings. Only white families matter?

    And I am not sure if “more unified” applies to white families before the Civil War, either. Unless. . . it just occurred to me now that maybe he’s thinking of the divorce rate. Because women can divorce men, especially abusive men, now, and could not do so in the past? Because only white families that white men want matter?

    Also: long before I had heard the phrase “everything is worse with libertarians”, I saw a libertarian making the argument that America had been “more free” before the Civil War. Feh.

  2. Mano Singham says

    Owl mirror,

    When these people talk about the good old days, they are referring exclusively to white, heterosexual, Christians who are middle-class or wealthier. But as you say, things may have not been so rosy even for that group.

  3. says

    Elsewhere he has said he thinks they should repeal every amendment since the 10th -- in other words a return to the primitive fascism of the oligarchy instead of its more nuanced form. He’s not a thoughtful human being.

  4. says

    Dr. King had this to say about southern mountains:

    With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.


    Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
    Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
    Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
    From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

    King knew how to take back racist symbols.

    Then, of course, there’s this good news…

  5. lanir says

    I grew up in the midwest. I’d never even heard of this place until a few weeks ago. Ugh, what a mess.

    About the time they want to return to again, I suspect the reason they can’t spell it out is because it only existed on celluloid. A fantasy family where someone else always screwed up, the male was magically in charge, and within 30 minutes everything would be resolved as the screw-up was admitted to the male in charge who would tut-tut and tell them to behave better.

  6. Mano Singham says

    hyphenman @#4,

    Thanks for that encouraging information about the addition to Stone Mountain.

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