Tell Tucker Observer – An open letter to Stone Mountain Park’s next management company

Eventually, the Stone Mountain Action Coalition wants at least the consideration of modifying or removing the giant Confederate carving that looms over the park. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

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Dear Tucker Observer,

We are the Stone Mountain Action Coalition (SMAC), a group of concerned citizens and community leaders interested in the future of Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park. We are among the Park’s strongest supporters and advocates for its tremendous potential.

As Georgia taxpayers continue to support the Park financially, we are invested– literally, and want nothing more but to see it succeed. However, the Park’s Confederate theme has greatly tarnished the Park’s image and diminished its visitor pool. With a new management company, Stone Mountain Park has the opportunity to begin anew. We envision a Park that portrays an accurate depiction of history and reflects the values of Georgia and Metro Atlanta’s diverse community. We are eager to work with an incoming management company interested in transforming the Park from a Confederate shrine with the world’s largest Confederate Memorial, into a landscape of racial reconciliation and a symbol of peace.

Over the last two years, Stone Mountain has been the site of several heavily armed and often violent demonstrations that have resulted in the deployment of the Georgia National Guard. These events have made an impact on Stone Mountain’s corporate relations and has prematurely severed the Park’s relationship with its longtime management company, Herschend Family Entertainment. Additionally, the Park has continued to lose other corporate partners including Marriott, the current operator of the Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort, and more recently Coca-Cola has removed its logo as an official Park sponsor.

While there have been internal changes to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association (SMMA), including Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to appoint a new chairman, Rev. Abraham Mosley, the possibility of real change seems unlikely. Since Chairman Mosley’s appointment, the only changes approved under his tenure include the further preservation and amplification of Confederate symbols with the construction of a new 40-acre Confederate Valor Memorial area, a decision that we consider completely superficial and inadequate. Other minor changes, like a new logo, or adding a display to the park, are similarly inadequate.

As of today, the nine-story Confederate carving is still maintained, Confederate flags still fly at the base of the Walk-up trail, Confederate memorabilia is still sold on Park grounds, and streets and land-features are still named after Confederate and Ku Klux Klan historical figures.  As citizens, we are concerned that the SMMA may not be providing prospective partners a comprehensive picture about the Park’s current situation (including that there have been no changes to the presence of the Confederacy at the Park). The RFP process is set to close on September 8, 2021. As such, we felt obligated to send a clear and direct message to the next management company.

The next management company must understand:

1. The Confederacy and white supremacy are bad for business. There is a reason Herschend, Marriott, and other major brands like Coca-Cola have chosen to disassociate themselves from Stone Mountain Park. Consumers are more informed than ever before and understand that the ideals of the Confederacy were and still are intimately linked to white supremacy and should not be celebrated in a public setting. It is no coincidence that Confederate flags have been banned by major retailers including Walmart, Amazon, and eBay. If Stone Mountain were to succeed, significant and immediate steps would need to be made to address the implications of the Park’s Confederate symbols. Some examples include but are not limited to ending maintenance of the Confederate carving, the immediate removal of all Confederate flags, ending the sale of all Confederate memorabilia, and renaming streets and land-features associated with Confederate and Ku Klux Klan historical figures.

2. SMMA leadership has failed and Governor Kemp must take action. Divorcing the Confederacy from Stone Mountain Park means realigning the mission of SMMA and further support from Governor Kemp. For decades, SMMA along with the state government has failed to address these issues despite ongoing controversy and frequent, violent demonstrations. As many are aware, SMMA is a body corporate and politic and instrumentality and public corporation of the state of Georgia. With this structure, SMMA is closely aligned with the state government, and can receive direct orders from the Governor. If Governor Kemp wanted to remove the Confederate flags, they could be legally removed. A new forward-looking corporate partner could advocate for the realignment of SMMA, and work with the state government to appoint board members who are invested in a more just and equitable future for the Park.

3. Stone Mountain Park, by definition, cannot be a site of heritage tourism or a living history museum. We are aware that other organizations have different visions for the future of Stone Mountain Park. On May 14, 2021, the Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) delivered a presentation to the Georgia Governor office and proposed that “heritage tourism” and “living history” be incorporated into the Park’s programming with examples such as Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown. While this idea surely fits into the mission and values of SCV, it does not fit Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain has no factual historical connection to the Civil War, Antebellum Period, or the Confederate Army. Sites like Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestowne are able to operate as living history sites because the sites themselves are historically significant to the time period they represent. Any recreation of the Civil War or Confederacy at Stone Mountain Park would be historically inaccurate and does not align with the values and contributions of living history or heritage tourism. Partners interested in this tactic should understand that incorporating such a concept into the programming at Stone Mountain Park would be historical fabrication and detrimental to greater American history.

4. The public demands transparency and your company will be held accountable. As a reminder, Stone Mountain Park is a public park supported by Georgia taxpayer dollars. SMAC and its vast network of supporters, and local and national organizations, will be waiting to see the outcome of your partnership. Your actions will be under close scrutiny, and we expect transparency to the public. Will you choose to operate the Park in its current failed state as the world’s largest Confederate memorial and shrine to white supremacy? Or will you actively work to make it a public park where ALL visitors, employees, and businesses feel welcome?

We feel that it is necessary to incorporate a new, community-driven vision for the Park that is both bold and transformative. Stone Mountain Park has the potential to attract millions of visitors each year, but will not achieve these numbers unless it is marketed as an inclusive, natural, and cultural recreational center. With this new vision, we can imagine a Stone Mountain Park that accurately contextualizes Southern history through interactive programs and multimedia experiences, establishes partnerships with African American and Native American groups in the spirit of cooperation and progress, and expands its focus on nature and wildlife conservation. Only with these changes can Stone Mountain Park emerge as a space that is no longer known for protests and controversy, but a world class destination for tourism, recreation, education, and conferences.

While this vision is ambitious, Georgia has a history of pursuing bold ideas in the face of social change, and we hope it will be able to rise to the occasion again. As the capital of the New South and nexus of the Civil Rights Movement, we have moved mountains before, and we will do it again!

– The Stone Mountain Action Coalition

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