Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have A Dream,” August 28, 1963 (emphasis added)
Count me as a supporter of the recommendation to put a monument on top of Stone Mountain recognizing the struggle for civil rights and Martin Luther King’s galvanizing “I Have a Dream” speech.
Like many Georgians, I have family roots in the Confederacy. My mother’s grandfather as a young teenager ran off from the family farm in Wilcox County to join up with General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. As a young scout he was captured and spent the end of the war in a horrible Union prison camp in Point Lookout, Maryland. My father’s great grandfather fared better as a Confederate Colonel in the Calvary in northern Florida but saw action in the Battle of Olustee and the Battle of Natural Bridge.
They fought bravely and sacrificed greatly and it would be wrong to have this heritage erased but there is more to the South and my native Georgia than the 19th century Lost Cause. There are the Southerners of different races and different political parties who stood up in the 20th century in the South to end segregation — Democrats like Ivan Allen who was the only southern mayor to testify in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Charles Weltner who gave up his seat in Congress rather than support a segregationist in his party for Governor, Georgia Republicans like Mike Egan and Kil Townsend who voted to seat Julian Bond in the General Assembly when members of his own party tried to oust him, and people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Sr., John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, Ralph David Abernathy, Andrew Young, and others who made Atlanta the center of the civil rights struggle.
Stone Mountain was never intended to be solely a Confederate Memorial. It is also designated as a public recreational park with hiking trails, water activities, rope courses, golf courses, and train rides. The idea that it does not have room to also recognize and honor Georgia’s great leap forward on civil rights is patently absurd.
Dr. King chose to call out Stone Mountain specifically in his speech because the mountain top has its own dark history in the struggle for civil rights in our country. It was on this mountain top in 1915 that a fiery cross was burned to mark the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. It is, therefore, all the more appropriate that we erect this proposed monument honoring our march toward a more just society “where one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood.”
I pray my proud ancestors will understand but am confident my children will. Let Freedom Ring.