Q: My 82-year-old mother would like to know that the Civil War monument on Lookout Mountain in Georgia/Tennessee will be safe from destruction. Her great-great-grandfather fought in the 97th Illinois Infantry in the Union Army. For the longest time, we thought his name was included on this monument, but it turned out to be another man with the same name. Nevertheless, we still want to know whether the names of these brave soldiers will be preserved there.
R.I., of Collinsville
A: With all the craziness going on the world over, I am hesitant to offer any sure-fire, can’t-miss predictions. On this matter, however, I am 99 and 44/100 percent certain your mom can rest easy because the Lookout monument is likely not going anywhere.
You have to understand that there’s a vast difference between the marker you’re worried about and those that are drawing so much controversy around the country. The plaques, statues and other monuments that are in trouble were erected to honor those who fought for the Confederacy, which, if it had won, might still be ruling over a society that condones slavery. Those opposed say such recognition has no place here in the 21st century. Put them in a museum or remove them, but don’t keep them in the middle of public parks for continued veneration.
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That’s why, for example, the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world — the 80-foot-tall carving of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on Stone Mountain in Georgia — is drawing such condemnation from some. Not only does it depict the Confederacy’s three most prominent figures, but it also is steeped in the history of the Ku Klux Klan.
If you don’t know the backstory, William and Samuel Venable deeded the north face of the mountain in 1916 to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which dreamed of setting its most revered Southern figures in stone. Just months before, however, you would have found this story in the Atlanta Constitution:
“Impressive services of the past week were those conducted on the night of Thanksgiving on the top of Stone Mountain. The exercises were held by 15 klansmen and marked the foundation of the invisible empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The new secret organization is founded with a view to taking an active part in the betterment of mankind, according to the statement of the members.”
In 1923, the Venables gave the Klan the right to hold celebrations on the mountain when they pleased. Although the carving wouldn’t start until 1964 after Georgia had purchased the mountain, it was the Klan-packed Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Association that raised more than $250,000 in the 1920s to support the United Daughters’ plan. Even Gutzon Borglum, who was initially commissioned to do the carving before he left to do Mount Rushmore, was a KKK member, according to a publication of St. Augustana College in Sioux Falls, Iowa. With that checkered history, it’s no surprise that it is in the critics’ crosshairs.
“Paid for by founders of the KKK, the monument had no purpose other than celebration of racism, terror and division,” current Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said recently. “We must never celebrate those who defended slavery and tried to destroy the Union.”
That’s why I am almost totally positive that your Lookout Mountain monument is safe. It honors those in the Union Army who were fighting to end the divisive war and, ultimately, the institution of slavery. For those unfamiliar, on Nov. 24, 1863, the Union Army used the cover of fog to capture Lookout Mountain, which enabled the North to break the Confederate hold on Chattanooga and secure control of Tennessee. Today, it’s commemorated as the “battle above the clouds” in memory of the helpful fog. So I can’t imagine anyone but the Klan and other fringe groups that would dare call for the monument’s removal, although the state would have the final say-so.
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Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: If you find a January 2013 copy of Georgia magazine, you’ll see Waynesboro, Georgia, population 5,700, billed as the bird dog capital of the world. Since 1903, it’s home to the Burke County Field Trials, which have been a staple for bird dog enthusiasts throughout the country. It reportedly features the largest open-shooting dog competition in the world and is one of only three derby championships in the country that can qualify a dog for the national championship.