The wait continues for groups who are pushing for the removal of Confederate symbols at Stone Mountain State Park.
The park’s board of directors had its first official meeting since August on Monday but took very little action.
The chairman of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association board, Ray Smith III, appointed CEO Bill Stephens to head up a panel to review proposals for changes at the park, including what to do with the giant Confederate carving.
“I anticipate this work will take months, not years,” said Smith, reading from a prepared statement. “I anticipate this work will be inclusive, not exclusive, and I anticipate this work will address both the economic and cultural importance this park has to the local communities and the entire state.”
But Stephens says any decision hinges on a current state law that bans the removal of Confederate symbols.
“So we’re gonna wait and see what the general assembly says, and then come back and my best guess will be April or May or maybe even June. But there needs to ample time to vet all the different proposals,” said Stephens.
Groups advocating for change say the board has had years to take action but has failed to do so. The most recent proposal came from the Stone Mountain Action Coalition, which outlined its wishes for the park in September.
One board member, Gregory B. Levett, appeared to catch his colleagues off guard toward the end of the meeting when he tried to introduce the coalition’s proposal for a vote. His motions were tabled for further discussion and Levett and Smith exchanged terse words after the meeting adjourned.
Democratic State Rep. Billy Mitchell, who also spoke at the meeting, says he plans to introduce legislation in January that would give the board the explicit authority to remove confederate symbols if it saw fit.
“To be quite candid with you, it’s not a matter of if this will change, it’s a matter of when,” said Mitchell. “At a previous meeting, the folks who run the commercial aspects of the park said ‘look, we’re losing money because of the protests and because of people having this image of the park.’”
Mitchell compared the legislation to the hate crimes which passed this year after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed while jogging in Brunswick.
“This time last year, had you told me that Georgia would have a hate crimes law, I would have said, it wouldn’t come to pass,” said Mitchell. “ But the reality is, there was so much of a demand that those who make political decisions had to recognize that and today as we speak here, we have a hate crimes law.”