Despite the awful unrest in our country right now, I am thankful for so many positive allies among my friends who continue to make efforts towards racial reconciliation, not only in Dekalb County where Stone Mountain is located, but within the country as a whole. Many here will recall how just two years ago we were embroiled in heated debates about Confederate flags, monuments, and symbols following Dylann Roof's murderous rampage at Mother Emanuel in Charleston. And we crossed this bridge again when white supremacists rallied at Stone Mountain Park on April 23, 2016, and I documented the powerful stand counter-protesters took against white supremacy that day and have not quite seen the park in the same way since. And, sadly, here we are again following the horrific Charlottesville attack. What should be a peaceful Saturday in America, has been one spent partially looking over our shoulders to gauge whether Nazis and white supremacists will be taking to our streets or will once again flock to the "mothership" of all Confederate monuments, Stone Mountain (there's a reason Stone Mountain was the front page of USA Today yesterday).
Shortly after the Charleston church shooting in 2015, I met Mary Hoyt from Clarkston, and I recorded this interview with her on July 6, 2015, as she stood in front of the Confederate flag terrace at the base of the walk-up trail holding a sign that read "Put The Flags Behind Glass." She texted me the other morning to say she'd be dusting off that sign again and returning to protest at the base of the mountain. "It's just all I know to do right now," she said, "And it feels like a prayerful, meditative experience being down here with my sign, a balm of Gilead for all those who walk by, and just a feeling of oneness with the mountain and nature and God and humanity for myself."
And I received a flurry of texts from friends this afternoon when CNN took on the topic of the Stone Mountain carving, as they know I have created a substantial body of thought on the mountain here and have been immersed for a good part of the past three years in not only celebrating and chronicling the beautiful intersection of people and cultures which have for years been symbolically reclaiming a former bastion of white supremacy, but I have also been decrying and constructively criticizing what's been wrong for far too long over at Stone Mountain Park, especially as pertains to the mountain itself. I have welcomed friends' emails and messages each time another politician has taken up the issue of the Stone Mountain carving this week.
At the end of the day, whether the park is privately operated or brought into the fold of the state or national park system, people should feel safe going to Stone Mountain Park, whether it's for well-being, fitness, communion with nature, or for family outings, and the environment should be respected. With the carving and Confederate "brand" of the park still acting as a documented beacon of hate for many racists across the nation (all you need is one; let Charleston and Charlottesville be a reminder), this issue has really crossed over into a public safety concern over the past fews years. Parkgoers should furthermore not be unfairly and unwittingly supporting the maintenance of a Confederate monument through the purchase of parking stickers and should have a choice as to what aspects of the park they wish to support with such funds. I truly hope this recharged debate will not just be all talk and that it will lead to real changes, even new public policy — and that divisive bait does not incite any violence. Again, it cannot be said enough how grateful I am for the support of so many who stand up for humanity and goodness and speak out against hate. Maybe one day the park can be rededicated to the people. Or, far-fetched as it may seem, even receive its own freedom from existing within a theme park and be given legal rights as its own entity and rededicated to the people.