Reflections from Stone Mountain: keep the Confederacy in the past

By Saba Long

I spent a portion of my weekend at Stone Mountain Park. Yes, I went to see white Southerners rally to legitimize their legacy and the Confederate flag.

Before reaching the rally, I observed dozens of individuals – many of them African-Americans – observing a Saturday morning tradition of convening at the park.

Four family reunions were scheduled that day. Yes, they were all black families. DeKalb County and the area surrounding the park is a mecca for those who benefited the most from the fall of the South. How appropriate.

“It’s our heritage,” Confederate supporters exclaim.

But, it’s not.

Now, I didn’t go up and down inspecting each pickup truck sequestered in a back lot at the park but, by and large, attendees appeared to be from rural Georgia or the outskirts of the metro region. And, I doubt they stepped out of stately Antebellum-era homes to make the trek to DeKalb County.

Direct descendants of plantation owners aren’t rallying atop the largest high relief sculpture in the world in protest of days gone by.

Instead, they’re members of the state legislature, giants in the agriculture industry and partners in law firms – choosing the collaborative spirit of commerce instead of lamenting a lost (and wrong) cause.

Stone Mountain carving

Stone Mountain carving of leaders of the Confederacy (Wikipedia)

I would guess that the people clinging to the flag are not the ancestry of the slaveholders. Rather, they were the workers, hired help a couple of rungs ahead of back-broken blacks. The one thing the Confederacy granted them was a sense of moral superiority, which the law subsequently denied them as well.

Forty-eight hours prior to the rally, two white males placed the flag on the grounds of Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site – weeks after a mass shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C.

Make no mistake: placing the Confederate flag on the grounds of Dr. Martin Luther King’s home church was an act of hate. It is just as despicable as placing a swastika flag on the grounds of the Temple just up the road on Peachtree.

Yet, nary a word of repudiation was uttered by Georgia’s Republican leaders, many of whom likely came from the same counties as the rally goers.

In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King praised white Southerners like Ralph McGill Jr. for recognizing the gravitas of the movement.

With the same pen, he rebuked the inaction of white moderates. He wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”

At the time that King was writing his speeches, white Southern leaders were fighting to make the Confederate relief a reality. To take it from concept to reality took 57 years – enough time to pass the Voting Rights Act and elect Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor.

Enough time to more properly display the full history and heritage of the state. But not enough time to heal the infected wounds caused by deep-seated hate.

We know those clinging to a heritage of hate are but a vocal minority. Indeed, radical hate is part of the human story.

While on the 2008 campaign trail, then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama sparked outrage when he spoke about people who cling to their guns or religion as a way to express their frustrations. While he called the phrasing in-artful, he stood by the premise of his comments.

It’s human nature to lash out when one feels vulnerable or desires to remain atop a self-appointed social or political dais.

Right-wingers clung to the birther movement in an attempt to deny the legitimacy of Obama’s candidacy. Christian purists clung to the Bible in an attempt to push away the possibility of the nation’s first Mormon president. African-Americans are clingers too – and often they cling to the very spirit of degradation beaten into them on plantations across the South. Clingers also can be Muslims, Jews and people of all races and creeds.

The “positive peace”{ Dr. King called for seems so elusive in the midst of what appears to be the makings of a new civil rights movement. History has put the Confederacy in its place – in the past.

It’s time we all move on as well.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

3 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    “We know those clinging to a heritage of hate are but a vocal minority. Indeed, radical hate is part of the human story.”

    What a pompous, self-righteous, misguided twit you continue to be.
    I suspect I am typical of many who profoundly disagree with you and your fellows. My father’s family was not in this country during the Civil War. On my mother’s side, all four of my great-great grandfather’s fought for the Confederacy and one of them was killed at Vicksburg. One of them had two slaves and the other three had no slaves because they were poor tenant farmers. It was not in the tenant farmer’s best interest to protect slavery, yet fight they did because there were other important issues involved, chief among them state’s rights. State’s rights – political powers reserved for the state governments and not for the Federal Government. State’s rights – the same issue being fought today, 150 years later, as the Federal Government seeks increasing control over every facet of my life and yours.
    I am not a flag-waving rebel, but I am immensely proud of my ancestors and what they did, and I will be damned if I will stand idly by and permit misguided individuals like you try to discredit my ancestors and eradicate their accomplishments.Report

    Reply
  2. Guest says:

    “Saba”, but for slavery, where would you be today?  In a mud hut, half-naked, scavenging for food and water, or butchering your neighbors with a machete?Report

    Reply
  3. Wormser Hats says:

    I think you’ve almost nailed it: like the great American myths of the wild-west and 19th century cities whose promise of commerce had European immigrants vying to see “streets paved in gold,” there’s another myth that is much closer to home, that of Dixie Land where “old times there are not forgotten.”  
    Sadly, they really have been. Memories get diluted and romanticized, history gets a politically-correct burnish, street names get changed from their founders, and even the ugly reminders of Jim Crow are removed from the back-door of the Plaza Theater so that no one living can believe they were ever more than stories from our ancestors. 

    And the flag of a losing, secessionist cause (under wish my Jewish, immigrant, great-great grandfather fought and was captured at Vicksburg), is reborn as a divisive icon that threatens public tolerance and civil acceptance of political heritage.  Rather than purge the uncomfortable reminders of history, we should – like the phoenix – let them be reborn from their ruins in our dialogues with each other and for each other. 
    I don’t believe that  – when Dr. King declared we “let freedom ring from Stone Mountain in Georgia,” that he (for one second) meant freedom from our history; however bitter and regrettable or romanticized and embellished that it may be.Report

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