The Long History of Stone Mountain, Georgia

Confederate Memorial, Stone Mountain, Georgia (sculptors: Gutzon Borglum, Augustus Lukeman, Julian Harris, Walter Hancock, and Roy Faulkner), completed in 1970 Warning: this video contains images of racial violence

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Stone Mountain, Georgia

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Key points

  • The relief sculpture of confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Jefferson Davis at Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, is a potent symbol of white supremacy which has continued to define southern United States culture since before the Civil War. White supremacy also characterized the spirit of manifest destiny that obscured Native presence and history in North America.
  • Under the leadership of Helen Plane, the United Daughters of the Confederacy originally commissioned a relief sculpture and memorial park on the site in 1915. Their effort to memorialize fallen husbands, sons, and fathers were part of a larger movement at the time to promote the myth of the “lost cause” of the Civil War and bolster the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • The sculpture took 55 years to complete, and multiple sculptors worked on it, each with their own designs. The commissioners and artists involved at each stage evoked visual models of power, honor, grandeur, and permanence — borrowed from both ancient Greece and Rome and American landscape painting.
  • Still today, the site reflects an ongoing conversation in Georgia and across the United States about the history, legacy, and symbolism of the Confederacy and Civil War.

Go deeper

Timothy Pratt and Rick Rojas, “Giant Confederate Monument will Remain at Revamped Stone Mountain”, New York Times, May 25, 2021

United Daughters of the Confederacy

The Confederate Flag: The Use of a Symbol (June16, 2021 panel discussion at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City)

Ku Klux Klan: A History of Racism and Violence (2011, Southern Poverty Law Center)

Learn more about the Mississippian Culture from this neck ornament, or gorget

Confederate Monument Interpretation Guide (2016, Atlanta History Center)

Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy (2019, Southern Poverty Law Center)

What will happen to Stone Mountain, America’s Largest Confederate Memorial? (August 22, 2017 Smithsonian Magazine)

Atlanta’s Stone Mountain: A Multicultural History (2011, Paul Stephen Hudson and Lora Pond Mirza)

More to think about

In the summer of 2021, the commission that oversees Stone Mountain park voted to remove Confederate Flags from the site and do a better job of contextualizing its history and symbolism. Without researching what actions have been taken, how do you think Stone Mountain could be better contextualized? What voices and histories should be included, and in what format/s?

Research project ideas

For a more in-depth project, research and consider these specific elements in answering the discussion questions above, presenting replies in a written or oral presentation to the class: 

  • The causes and results of the U.S. Civil War
  • The display of the Confederate flag 
  • Segregation and civil rights 
  • Indian removal
  • Visual symbolism of power and permanence

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.