Gov. Nathan Deal said he was open to appointing a black member to the board that governs state-owned Stone Mountain amid new scrutiny into the nation’s largest monument to the Confederate war dead.
Deal said he hadn’t realized that each of the 10 members of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association board was white, and said “we’d certainly be open” to tapping an African-American leader to serve on the panel.
Stone Mountain and its towering carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is again at the center of debate over Rebel symbols after last week’s bloody violence in Charlottesville, Va. And the lack of diversity on its board is well-known in DeKalb County and a topic of discussion elsewhere in the Capitol.
One of the loudest calls to remove the Confederate trio from the mountain is from state Rep. Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor, who drew national attention last year for her vow to take a symbolic sandblaster to the mount. She said Saturday on CNN it was designed to “terrorize black families.”
“Confederate monuments have nothing to do with any of our American history except for treason and domestic terrorism,” she said.
Doing so would be a monumental challenge. A state law that was part of a 2001 compromise to overhaul Georgia’s segregation-era flag declares that the “heroes of the Confederate States of America” enshrined on the mountain shall be “preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism” of the South’s soldiers.
Deal, whose second-term expires in January 2019, said Abrams’ plan was a non-starter. There’s little appetite among legislative leaders to revisit the legislation that protects Stone Mountain – the top two GOP leaders in the state Senate opposed Abrams proposal – and Deal signaled he would veto the legislation even if it passed.
“That is a dedicated memorial by state law,” said Deal. “It would require the Legislature to take action to do that, and I would personally not be in favor of that.”
Other prominent politicians have called for less-sweeping changes that could still have a meaningful impact on the site.
DeKalb Chief Executive Michael Thurmond, whose county encompasses Stone Mountain, wouldn’t take a side on Abrams’ call, but he said the park needed to add historical exhibits to provide additional context for the throngs of visitors who tour the site each year.
“The narrative has to become more inclusive. The idea of the mountain belonging to the KKK or the neo-Nazis – no, it belongs to the people of Georgia,” said Thurmond, also a Civil War historian. “It doesn’t belong to the Confederate veterans or the NAACP. We all have an investment here.”
And he said he hoped Deal would appoint an African-American member to the Stone Mountain board “very soon.” Asked on Saturday about that possibility, Deal made clear he was receptive to the idea.
“When we have vacancies,” he said, “we’ll take that into consideration.”