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The complicated past and present of Stone Mountain | News

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The complicated past and present of Stone Mountain

STONE MOUNTAIN, GA (WXIA) -- Stone Mountain has again become a source of contention as July 4 weekend arrives.


Some are calling for a boycott of the park that displays many Confederate flags, particularly with July 4th approaching this Saturday. What makes this particular tourist attraction such a center of controversy? It's all about the history.

What is Stone Mountain today?

"It's a melting pot, just like Atlanta itself is," resident Lemar McRae said.

Neighbor Charles Dougherty agrees.

"It's incredibly diverse. You see all races and creeds here," he said.

But not all feel the same.

"It still brings some level of separation in the races, just by virtue of its affiliation," resident Gwendolyn Farris said.

In many ways, the city bears hallmarks of the future. But its present is seemingly always fused to its past.

"When I first moved here, I felt some apprehension about being here," said Farris. "There's no talk about it, but we feel it; we know that it's there."

"It" is the city's history of racial animosity -- a history that dates back at least a century. In 1915 the mountain became the re-birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, which hosted rallies there for decades.

"I know the KKK was active in this area all the way up until my lifetime," said DeKalb County resident Joe Todd. "The Confederate generals are carved into the mountain, of course."

That Confederate carving, which captures 19th century history, is a mid-20th century creation. After many years of stop-and-start development, It was unveiled in 1970, less than one half-century ago.

"I lived in some of that time period where racial prejudice was very common and a part of everyday life," recalls Farris.

Yet today, the mountain and those flags are perhaps the only obvious signs of prejudice in Stone Mountain, a city where black residents outnumber white residents roughly 4-to-1.

Many of those residents seem unconcerned, or at least undaunted, by the past.

"If you want to be honest, anywhere you live in America, some form of atrocity has happened," said McRae.

"It's history," said park visitor Lamar Johnson. "You have to learn your past to know where you're going go in the future."

So what is Stone Mountain today? No answer is universal.

"The type of flag being flown doesn't depict who I am, who I want my kids to be," said Johnson.

And McRae?

"There's facts and things that happened here, so for you not to pay attention to it, what does that say about you?" he said.