Georgia governor to consider adding diversity on Stone Mountain’s board

The board that governs state-owned Stone Mountain Park and preserves the nation’s largest monument to Confederate war dead has only white members, something Gov. Nathan Deal said he may consider changing.

Deal said he hadn’t realized that each of the 10 members of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association board was white and he said “we’d certainly be open” to tapping an African-American to serve on the panel.

Stone Mountain and its towering carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is again at the center of debate over Rebel symbols after this month’s bloody violence in Charlottesville, Va.

One of the loudest calls to remove the Confederate trio from the mountain is from state Rep. Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor, who drew national attention last week for her vow to take a symbolic sandblaster to the mountain. Abrams, who is African-American, said Saturday on CNN that the carving was designed to “terrorize black families.”

“Confederate monuments have nothing to do with any of our American history except for treason and domestic terrorism,” she said.

Removing the carving would be a monumental challenge. A state law that was part of a 2001 compromise to overhaul Georgia’s segregation-era flag declares that the “heroes of the Confederate States of America” enshrined on the mountain shall be “preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism” of the South’s soldiers.

Deal, whose second term expires in January 2019, said Abrams’ plan was a nonstarter. There’s little appetite among legislative leaders to revisit the legislation that protects Stone Mountain — the top two GOP leaders in the state Senate opposed Abrams proposal — and Deal signaled he would veto the legislation even if it passed.

“That is a dedicated memorial by state law,” Deal said. “It would require the Legislature to take action to do that, and I would personally not be in favor of that.”

All four leading Republican candidates condemned the idea — Secretary of State Brian Kemp said “we should learn from the past, not attempt to rewrite it” — and Abrams’ Democratic rival, Stacey Evans, also opposed it.

In a lengthy statement, Evans said she would seek to repeal laws that restrict state or local governments from altering or removing local monuments that honor the Confederacy. But rather than remove the Confederate faces from the mountain, Evans said she would back a measure requiring the park’s operators to run it as an “inclusive and historically accurate memorial to the Civil War — not the Confederacy.”

Other prominent politicians have called for less-sweeping changes that could still have a meaningful impact on the site.

DeKalb County Chief Executive Michael Thurmond, whose county encompasses Stone Mountain, wouldn’t take a side on Abrams’ call, but he said the park needed to add historical exhibits to provide additional context for the throngs of visitors who tour the site each year.

“The narrative has to become more inclusive. The idea of the mountain belonging to the KKK or the neo-Nazis — no, it belongs to the people of Georgia,” said Thurmond, also a Civil War historian. “It doesn’t belong to the Confederate veterans or the NAACP. We all have an investment here.”

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association was formed in 1958 and has contracted with Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. to run the attraction since 1998. It was unclear Monday when the last African-American member left the authority governing board.

Thurmond, who is black, said he hoped Deal would appoint an African-American member to the Stone Mountain board “very soon.”

Asked on Saturday about that possibility, Deal made clear he was receptive to the idea.

“When we have vacancies,” he said, “we’ll take that into consideration.”

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