Panel will weigh how to 'bring Stone Mountain Park into 21st century'

©TheAtlantaJournalConstitution

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images North America/TNS

ATLANTA — Activist groups, local politicians and other community members over the past several months have renewed their push to change the Confederate imagery at Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park.

And while there are many unanswered questions and details to be worked out, officials announced Monday that a soon-to-be-formed committee will evaluate those proposals — and, in the coming months, make recommendations about how to “bring Stone Mountain Park into the 21st century.”

Bill Stephens, the CEO of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, will lead the effort.

“There are all kinds of proposals,” Stephens said. “As we vet them, some will make the cut and some won’t. I think in general what the board has been saying is we’re in favor of additions to the park, not subtractions. But that’s to be determined too.”

Plans for the committee were announced during Monday afternoon’s Stone Mountain Memorial Association board meeting, a much-anticipated gathering that had been twice postponed.

Groups including the Stone Mountain Action Coalition have been pushing the board hard to make widespread changes at the park, including changing street names, removing Confederate flags that fly at the base of the mountain and, eventually, addressing the massive carving that adorns the mountain’s north face.

Sheri Lake, a leader of the coalition, said she appreciated that the memorial association wasn’t “just throwing the issue under a rug.” But she was wary of how the committee process might be conducted and potential transparency issues.

Ray Stallings Smith III, the memorial association board chair who directed Stephens to form the committee, said he expected the process to be inclusive. But it was not immediately clear how the committee would be comprised or how it would function.

“When they talk about additions as opposed to change, that continues to concern us,” Lake said.

Stephens, the memorial association CEO, suggested the committee could make recommendations by next April, May or June — in other words, after the upcoming state legislative session.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association is a state authority tasked, by law, with operating Stone Mountain Park and preserving an appropriate and suitable monument to the Confederacy. Groups such as the Stone Mountain Action Coalition have suggested that the law’s wording leaves room for the memorial association to make changes, but the board has thus far avoiding making that argument.

“We take our legal advice from the attorney general’s office, not from anybody else,” Stephens said.

State Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, was one of several elected officials who attended Monday’s meeting in support of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition and the removal of Confederate imagery at the park. He said he plans to introduce a bill during the upcoming session that would remove any gray area about the ability for the memorial association to make changes.

“They say the law is ambiguous,” Mitchell said. “Let’s make it unambiguous.”

———

©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)