I spent a warm holiday day at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the largest and perhaps most controversial remaining monument to the Confederacy. The temperature was in the mid-70°s (24° C) which is extremely warm for January in north Georgia.
The mountain is a monadnock (an isolated small mountain that rises from the rolling hills of the Atlanta area). It is composed primarily of quartz monzonite (as opposed to granite). The difference being that granite contains typically more than 20% quartz while quartz monzonite is only 5-20% quartz. This type of rock is often associated with copper mineralization or ore deposits which explains the greenish streaks that stream down the mountain.
On the mountains north face is carved the largest bas-relief in the world. The carving depicts three Confederate figures during the Civil War: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. The carved area covers a massive 1.57 acres or about 6,400 square meters, just a bit smaller than the size of two football fields.
The carving of the three men towers 400 feet (120 m) above the ground, measures 76 by 158 feet (23 by 48 m), and is recessed 42 feet (13 m) into the mountain.
If the memorial weren't enough to be off-putting to many, the mountain also has a long history of being associated with the Ku Klux Klan. In 1915 the second iteration of the Klan was born at Stone Mountain. Later the owners of the mountain granted the Klan perpetual easement and right to hold celebrations at Stone Mountain as they desired.
The mountain is now operated as a park and owned by the State of Georgia.
In 2015 Stone Mountain was drawn into a political debate related to the removal of symbols of the Confederacy. There is a proposal to blast the massive bas relief off the side of the mountain but as the mountain is currently owned by the State of Georgia and any such change would require approval by the Georgia legislature (not likely). Many would view the destruction as destroying art history due in part to the beginning of the carving by Gutzon Borglum, who later began carving Mount Rushmore.
A private company, Herschend Family Entertainment, has a long-term lease to manage the park. The operators have made it a costly excursion to visit Stone Mountain unless one knows their way around.
On a recent afternoon the park was quite full with many ethnic minorities including Muslim women in Hijabs (veils that cover the head and chest), Indians, African Americans, etcetera.
There were long lines to buy tickets to the Christmas Village and Snow Park on a recent afternoon even though there was no snow and Christmas was past. I opted to hike around the tourist trap and check out the Confederate Memorials rather than pay any more than the $15 parking fee.
Above: The giant sculpture is visible just above the Memorial Hall which sits atop a bluff overlooking memorials to each of the Confederate States on a Memorial Lawn built into the hillside.
The sun only reaches slightly higher than 33° in the southern sky in January in Atlanta so it was constantly interfering with my shots of the memorial until I got close enough to the mountain that the mountain blocked the sun.
The snow making machines were running non-stop but they were having little effect as the snow melted as fast as it was made on this very warm winter day. I think I would have been very disappointed if I had paid for the "best-value ticket" at $44.95 and not been able to play in the artificially produced snow.
Closer to the mountain the relief comes into focus. There is a lift to the east of the bas-relief, but the lines are long and there is yet another fee if one wants to ride to the top. Better to hike to the top of the mountain. At 1,686 feet (514 m) it is only about 825 feet (251 m) above the surrounding terrain. The easiest hike up is from the west side of the mountain.
To see my images from the top of Stone Mountain go to this link:
There is a lot of educational material in the gardens that frame each of the state memorials. I was most interested in finding the memorial to Mississippi which is my family's home.
5 Myths About Why the South Seceded
1. The South seceded over states' rights.
Confederate states did claim the right to secede, but no state claimed to be seceding for that right.
2. Secession was about tarriffs and taxes.
High tariffs had prompted the Nullification Controversy in 1831-33, when, after South Carolina demanded the right to nullify federal laws or secede in protest, President Andrew Jackson threatened force. No state joined the movement, and South Carolina backed down. Tariffs were not an issue in 1860, and Southern states said nothing about them. Why would they? Southerners had written the tariff of 1857, under which the nation was functioning. Its rates were lower than at any point since 1816.
3. Most white Southerners did not own slaves, so they wouldn't secede for slavery.
Most white Southern families had no slaves. Less than half of white Mississippi households owned one or more slaves, for example, and that proportion was smaller still in whiter states such as Virginia and Tennessee. It is also true that, in areas with few slaves, most white Southerners did not support secession. West Virginia seceded from Virginia to stay with the Union, and Confederate troops had to occupy parts of eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama to hold them in line. However, there was widespread belief in white supremacy which provided a rationale for slavery even by non-slave-owning whites.
4. Abraham Lincoln went to war to end slavery.
Since the Civil War did end slavery, many Americans think abolition was the Union’s goal. But the North initially went to war to hold the nation together. Abolition came later.
5. The South could not have made it long as a slave society.
Slavery was hardly declining in 1860. That year, the South produced almost 75 percent of all U.S. exports. Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. No elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest voluntarily. Moreover, Confederates eyed territorial expansion into Mexico and Cuba. Short of war, who would have stopped them — or forced them to abandon slavery?
I went through 12 memorials before I found Mississippi near the base of the mountain. I should note that the Confederacy was technically 11 states (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Virginia which included what is now West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee). Missouri and Kentucky, while largely part of the Confederacy, never formally seceded from the Union.
For that reason Kentucky and Missouri were not "readmitted" to the Union because they had not officially seceded. Splinter groups in Kentucky and Missouri declared for the Confederacy and were recognized by the Confederacy but they did not represent the official state government. Thus the Confederacy claimed thirteen states but the Union recognized only eleven as being in secession.
Below: looking up the bluff at the Memorial Hall. There is a gift shop and restaurant and meeting rooms here. There were no symbols of the Confederacy for sale in the gift shop and the customers were a diverse cultural mix of Muslim women, Indians, Pakistanis, African Americans, and a few whites, all milling around looking at the Made-in-China crap for sale in the shop.
Closer to the base of the mountain I could see the sculpture much better and I found the Memorial to Mississippi, below.
Around the base of the Mountain is the Stone Mountain Railroad. For another fee you can ride around on the train instead of hiking.
I liked the red caboose. One rarely sees a train with a caboose in 2016.
At the top of the mountain there are forests on three sides. There were a lot of pools of water from recent heavy rains they've received in North Georgia.