The United States considers what to do with its own ‘Valley of the Fallen’

  • Stone Mountain is a mountain in Georgia with immense relief showing Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, and two great southern generals, Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who led a civil war
  • What paints a sculptural tribute to three racists in the middle of a public park? That is what many Democrats and several civil rights leaders ask, who advocate erasing the relief
  • Some argue that sculptures such as those of Stone Mountain are not an exaltation of racism, but a simple historical memory

 

Stone Mountain is a huge rock in the middle of the Georgia plain. A mole of about two kilometers in diameter with whose granite the US Capitol Staircase was built and part of the Panama Canal. Native Americans have held rites at their summit for millennia, but since the early twentieth century, it is best known for other types of ceremonies: those full of torches and hoods that the Ku Klux Klan usually does. For that reason and for the immense relief that is carved on its west slope, 120 meters high, in which a politician and two generals are seen on horseback. None of them is any person.

Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America, that is, of the southern states that decided to become independent from the US in order to keep some four million African Americans in slavery. Those who accompany him at the monument are the great generals of the South, Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who led a civil war that left some 600,000 dead in the hope that blacks could continue to be merchandise that was bought and sold. His cause was negligible and the means with which he defended it, terrible. But there they are, carved into a relief so large that an adult can stand in the mouth of one of their horses. The most visited monument in the state of Georgia.

What paints a sculptural tribute to three racists in the middle of a public park? That is what many Democrats and several civil rights leaders ask, who advocate erasing the relief. After years of glorification of the Confederation in many parts of the US, monuments are now being dismantled throughout the country. Many town halls have put themselves to it, but in almost all the states of the old south, laws have been passed to ban it and 62% of Americans prefer to leave things as they are.

Some argue that sculptures such as those of Stone Mountain are not an exaltation of racism but a simple historical memory. Like so many others, the largest Confederate monument in the world was not sculpted during the American civil war or in the years immediately after. It was planned for many years, between meeting and meeting of the Ku Klux Klan at its summit, but the state of Georgia did not take ownership of the mountain until 1955. Why? As a protest, because a year earlier the Supreme Court had said that black and white children could not be segregated in different schools.

It was never a tribute to the three men who come out in relief, but to the racism and segregation, they represented. It is like a lament for the military defeat that abolished slavery: the governor of Georgia decided to open the park and its controversial relief on April 14, 1965, precisely the day on which 100 years of the assassination of Lincoln, the president who abolished slavery and died for it at the hands of a fan of the South.

Recently, the authorities have tried a kind of intermediate solution with Stone Mountain: they proposed to maintain the relief that pays tribute to the Confederate heroes and to add a memorial of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, killed in 1968, who had mentioned the place in his famous speech “I have a dream”. However, civil rights organizations considered it a fraud and an attempt to bleach a racist monument without having to erase the relief. The problem is that any monument to those who fought to maintain slavery is impossible to bleach. It is what it is.

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