The Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has called for the destruction of Stone Mountain, an enormous bas-relief sculpture commemorating three leaders of the Confederacy. The demand puts them in unusual company: with the Taliban of Afghanistan.
Stone Mountain, begun in 1923 and finished in 1972, is the world’s largest high-relief sculpture. The sculpture, over 90 feet tall and 190 feet wide, shows three major leaders of the Confederate States of America mounted on horseback: President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Even before the sculpture was finished, it had strong ties to Confederate nostalgia; the first rally of the revived Ku Klux Klan was held atop the mountain in 1915. Now, the Atlanta NAACP says the monument should be destroyed, as it is a “glorification of slavery and white supremacy.”
The demand is part of a wider effort by the NAACP in Georgia to purge public spaces of Confederate symbols, a campaign that has surged in intensity since the Charleston church shooting and subsequent debate over the Confederate flag in South Carolina. While the NAACP’s press release is broad in scope, Atlanta chapter president Richard Rose has made it clear Stone Mountain is no exception just because it’s a famous and record-breaking work of art.
“That carving is a great piece of art, but it was commissioned out of hate and white supremacy,” Rose said, according to CNN. “The state should not be supporting or condoning white supremacy with my tax dollars.”
Ironically, Rose’s complaint about supporting white supremacy with tax money does not apply to Stone Mountain. Although owned by Georgia, Stone Mountain is self-sufficient, entirely sustained by entrance fees, donations, and other income, and it receives no state funding.
The effort to obliterate art puts the NAACP in uncomfortable company. In recent history, perhaps the most famous instance of demolishing colossal artwork was carried out by the Taliban.
In 2001, just a few months before the U.S. toppled them in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Islamic autocrats of Afghanistan aroused international outrage when they blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The Buddhas, each over 100 feet tall and carved out of a cliff, were over 1,400 years old and regarded as one of the world’s greatest artistic and cultural treasures.
But to the Taliban, the statues were simply idols, and so they drilled holes in the statues, filled them with dynamite, and reduced the priceless works to rubble.
The Atlanta NAACP doesn’t want dynamite to be brought against Stone Mountain. Instead, they think a sandblaster would work best.
“They can sand blast Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Jackson off tomorrow. I’d be extremely elated,” Rose said according to CBS Atlanta. In a separate interview with WSB-TV, Rose said it would also be acceptable to “carefully remove a slab of that and auction it off to the highest bidder.” Given the sculpture’s huge size, it’s unclear how this approach would be feasible.
Some have already rejected the NAACP’s demands as too extreme, including Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, whose district includes Stone Mountain.
“I’m not so much affected by Stone Mountain Park as I am by the flag flying at an official government building like a state capitol or even the federal Capitol, a position, the seat of government,” Johnson, who is black, said in a radio interview. “I view Stone Mountain as more of a museum-type archaeological place of remembrance for those who want to remember back then and they have a right to remember back then and the park is there.”
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