Stone Mountain board faces social, economic pressure to change park’s image

Stone Mountain’s image problem is increasingly becoming an economic one, too.

The park, like most tourist attractions, saw a drop in visitors during the pandemic. But business at the park’s hotels has been down, too, because of Stone Mountain’s connection to the Confederacy.

The red ink has the board that oversees the park looking to make changes.

In May, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association board voted to move Confederate flags from a main hiking area closer to the 90-foot carving of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. On Monday, it narrowed the choice for a new SMMA logo – one that replaces a depiction of the carving with a picture of the entire mountain.

Both measures are expected to be finalized this summer, as is the naming of a seven-member advisory board that will decide how the Confederacy is represented at the park. The park’s CEO, Bill Stephens, says the advisory committee will likely be announced in July.

“I have gathered a list of historians that we’re talking to,” said Stephens. “We haven’t finished those discussions yet, but they are prominent historians here in Georgia, and we think they will be a good addition to the committee itself.”

Stephens has said he wants the park to tell the “whole story” of the Civil War and Georgia’s history.

“I think what you can do is tell a true, accurate and believable story about Stone Mountain monuments and the carving that will mean something to Georgians and the other visitors that come here. So there will be some divisiveness, but that’s always the case when it comes to symbols,” said Stephens.

But advocates say Confederate symbols have no place at a state-owned park and are pushing for more changes, such as the removal of the carving and the changing of park features named for Confederates and white supremacists.

Derrica Williams, a member of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition, spoke at Monday's meeting. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)
Derrica Williams, a member of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition, spoke at Monday’s meeting. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

Derrica Williams is a member of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition, an advocacy group formed in 2020. She says Gov. Brian Kemp, who appoints the association board, needs to take a more active role in advocating for changes at the park.

“Is he OK with aligning himself with the idea that my tax dollars are being spent to maintain a park that glorifies a time when I was considered less than a whole human?” asked Williams. “Basically, I am paying to be disrespected.”

Richard Rose with the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP said the Confederate imagery at Stone Mountain celebrates a “failed insurrection.”

“No monument is history,” said Rose. “It is a political statement of the time, and the time has passed for these political statements.”