Stone Mountain and other monuments to the Confederacy should be wiped clean

Stone Mountain

George Shepherd is Professor of Law at Emory Law School in Atlanta. The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more opinion articles at CNN.

(CNN)In last week's memorial service for George Floyd, the Rev. Al Sharpton noted that the recent demonstrations against abusive policing were caused not just by Floyd's death after a white officer kneeled on his throat. Instead, it was the last straw after centuries of oppression. Mr. Sharpton noted, "Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck."

George Shepherd
One weapon to suppress African Americans: monuments to white supremacists. Soon after the Civil War, Southern whites began reasserting their dominance. During the following 80 years of Jim Crow segregation, their methods included glorifying confederate leaders.
    Most of the large monuments began to appear in the early 20th Century, long after the war ended in 1865. The goal was not to preserve "Southern heritage," as the monuments' defenders now claim. Instead, the goal was to install white-supremacist icons that would intimidate African Americans and enforce whites' supremacy. Historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage, for example, has written that the monuments "were sometimes explicitly linked to the cause of white supremacy by the notables who spoke at their dedication" and that white industrialist Julian Carr "unambiguously urged his audience to devote themselves to the maintenance of white supremacy with the same vigor that their Confederate ancestors had defended slavery.
    The history of the giant carvings on Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, is instructive. Planning of the carvings began only in 1914. Substantial funding for the project came from the KKK, which met on the mountain's top to burn crosses and the project's first directors and promoters were Klan members. The original plan was to depict General Robert E. Lee leading Confederate soldiers and Klan members up the mountain. Many other Confederate monuments were erected during this period, helping consolidate Jim Crow's racist hierarchy.
    A second wave of white-supremacist monuments appeared in the late 1950s. After the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools in 1954, Southern states vowed a program of "Massive Resistance." Part of the resistance was installing more white-supremacist icons. This was when the State of Georgia purchased Stone Mountain; finished the huge carvings -- bigger than the presidents on Mount Rushmore -- of two Confederate military leaders, Stonewall Jackson and Lee, and the political leader, Jefferson Davis; and added the Confederate battle flag to Georgia's state flag.
    Like so many Confederate monuments, the carvings on Stone Mountain were not an innocent artifact of Civil War history. Instead, they were a middle finger both to African Americans and to the federal government that was trying to end discrimination. Stone Mountain was such an evil icon that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. invoked it in his "I have a dream" speech.
    Statues and monuments have always carried great symbolic weight. When UK protesters demonstrating against Floyd's killing dumped a statue of a 17th-century slave trader in the sea on Sunday, they were following the examples of activists who pulled down statues of Joseph Stalin in Russia; Saddam Hussein in Iraq and British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes in South Africa and the UK, among others.
    In the US, the Stone Mountain carvings continue to be shrines to white supremacy. To walk up the mountain, an African American must bear the indignity of passing the Confederate stone giants, driving along Robert E. Lee Blvd. past Stonewall Jackson Drive, parking next to Confederate Hall, and marching past four different Confederate flags, including the stars-and-bars battle flag,at this state park. Part of the cost of admission to Stone Mountain's