"The South Believes in Human Slavery"

Black Journalists Criticize Stone Mountain Confederate Monument

There were three distinct waves of construction at Stone Mountain. The first began in 1915 when Helen Plane suggested carving a small monument to Lee in the mountain.[1] Soon after, Gutzon Borglum—the Ku Klux Klan affiliate who would later become the chief sculptor of Mount Rushmore—was contracted to begin the work. He proposed a literal army of carvings depicting every major Confederate leader.[2]

The second wave began in 1925 when Borglum was removed and Augustus Lukeman was contracted to head the operation, dramatically revising the existing plans and blasting Borglum’s work off the mountain.[3] Damage to the Stone Mountain Confederate Monument Association’s reputation and infighting between the Association and the landowner (himself a KKK affiliate and insistent that Borglum be rehired) led to the fizzling out of the project. This collapse happened despite the minting of a commemorative coin as part of a federal government-backed fundraising initiative for the monument, targeted explicitly at white Southerners.

The third wave commenced in 1964 after the state of Georgia bought Stone Mountain and appointed George Weiblen as superintendent of the carvers.[4] This culminated in an official dedication in 1970, with vice-president Spiro T. Agnew offering the guest oration.[5]

The monument’s history—and the mountain itself—were fused with the
trajectory of the Ku Klux Klan and its two “rebirths” in the early 20^th^ century and again in the mid-20^th^ century. Each wave of construction was marked by special interest among Black newspapers, who in addition to their blunt criticism of the project took particular care to note mismanagement, controversy, and corruption attending the process.

In 2000, the Atlanta Daily World published a retrospective of Stone Mountain, identifying it as a “Lost Cause shrine.” The author specifically highlighted the monument’s links to Confederate identity in its founding moment: “In 1915, Helen Plane, widow of a surgeon in the Confederate army and president of the Atlanta chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, proposed a 10-foot-wide statue of Lee’s head.”[6] As the Kansas City Sun wrote in 1921, Plane “sent for Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor, to come to Georgia, to consider the feasibility of a great sculptural monument to the Confederacy on the wall of the mountain.”[7] But Borglum returned with big ideas, proposing an image of an army depicting every Confederate leader.[8]

Black newspapers frequently denounced the monument even in its very early days. In 1924, the Chicago Defender republished a number of statements offered by speakers at the dedication of the Lincoln memorial. For instance, Rev. Charles L. Shergur, the chaplain of the Grand Army of the Republic, was quoted referring to Stone Mountain’s proposed Confederate carvings as a “‘monument to treason,’ which would soon be forgotten, while the memorials to Lincoln would live.”[9] Of the Klansmen supporting the memorial at Stone Mountain, he said, “This unnatural and un-American collection of mongrels must be destroyed for the good of the country.”[10]

The Chicago Defender published an article discussing the construction of the memorial in 1923:

Gutzen [sic] Borglum, noted sculptor, promises to draw on the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia a tribute to the Confederate soldiers that will overshadow every other memorial in the world… The memorial will extend a thousand feet and more across the face of the mountain. Lee and Jackson will be seen standing reviewing the Confederate armies. Jefferson Davis will be carved looking down on his two heroes.[11]

The Defender editors wryly added: “Very pretty, but don’t let that worry you. Whatever may be written on the side of Stone Mountain will not disturb the Emancipation Proclamation.”[12] They also attacked what they saw as the corrupt culture responsible for the monument: “The South, home of determined unforgetting, unforgiving people, is behind this monument to the Lost Cause.”[13]

Similarly, the Pittsburgh Courier published an article in 1925 decrying the Stone Mountain memorial:

The South, aided by an obsession that the Rebellion was right and the abolition of Negro slavery wrong, decided to have carved on the face of Stone Mountain a living reminder of the cause to which they have dedicated their lives reminder of the cause to which they have dedicated their lives: human slavery and color selfishness. They hired a sculptor to carve the sign of rebellion on the mountains of Georgia, where passersby, in all the coming years, might know that the South believes in human slavery, and gave it up only at the point of the gun.

The article concluded with a blunt prescription: “Just enough work has been done to remind the traveler that ‘there is the lost cause, conceived in hatred, and interrupted in its course for want of support.’ Nothing could constitute a more appropriate insignia to a lost cause than an unfinished monument halted in its rise for want of sympathy. Let Stone Mountain alone.”[14]

Justin Seward


Chicago Defender. “Rebel Image on Mountain Criticized.” August 23, 1924, 2.

Johnson, Kathryn. “They’re Carving Up Old Stone Mountain.” Tampa Bay Times, June 19, 1966, 59.

Kansas City Sun. “Stone Mountain.” September 9, 1921, 4.

New York World. “Stone Mountain.” January 13, 1925, 28.

Piper, Pat. “Stone Mountain: Maj. Tucker Says, ‘It Will Crack’.” Tampa Bay Times, May 9, 1970, 25.

Pittsburgh Courier. “Let Stone Mountain Alone.” February 28, 1925, 20.

Pittsburgh Courier. “The Stone Mountain Jinx.” August 27, 1927, 20.

Schwartz, Jerry. “Stone Mountain Is a Many-Faceted Tourist Attraction and Lost Cause Shrine.” Atlanta Daily world, January 6, 2000, 4.

Scott, Lucile M. “Memorial Plaza Dedication Today at Stone Mountain.” Atlanta Daily World, April 23, 1978, 10.

Simmons, Roscoe. “The Week.” Chicago Defender, April 28, 1923, 13.

Tampa Bay Times. “A Mountain to Serve as a Monument.” September 13, 1914, 54.

Tampa Bay Times. “New Beginning for Stone Mountain Monument.” December 15, 1925, 61.

Tampa Bay Times. “New Stone Mountain Memorial Design.” September 13, 1925, 55.

Tampa Bay Times. “Remodeling Stone Mountain.” June 27, 1925, 16.

Tampa Bay Times. “Stone Mount Probe Asked.” September 3, 1927, 8.

Tampa Bay Times. “Stone Mountain Friend Demands His Money Back.” April 29, 1925, 1.

Tampa Bay Times. “Stone Mountain Sculptor Assails Memorial Members.” February 22, 1925, 1.

Tampa Bay Times. “Stone Mountain—Where History Comes Alive.” February 16, 1970, 110.

Tampa Bay Times. “Vice President Agnew at Stone Mountain.” May 10, 1970, 2.

  1. Schwartz, Jerry, “Stone Mountain is a Many-Faceted Tourist Attraction and Lost Cause Shrine,” 4. Several Southern figures had already called for a Confederate monument to be etched into Stone Mountain by this time, but Plane is generally credited with activating real work on the project. ↩︎

  2. Kansas City Sun, “Stone Mountain,” 4. ↩︎

  3. Pittsburgh Courier, “The Stone Mountain Jinx”; Tampa Bay Times, “New Stone Mountain Memorial Design.” ↩︎

  4. Tampa Bay Times, “They’re Carving Up Old Stone Mountain.” ↩︎

  5. Schwartz, Jerry, “Stone Mountain is a Many-Faceted Tourist Attraction and Lost Cause Shrine”; Tampa Bay Times, “Vice President Agnew at Stone Mountain.” ↩︎

  6. Schwartz, Jerry, “Stone Mountain is a Many-Faceted Tourist Attraction and Lost Cause Shrine.” ↩︎

  7. Kansas City Sun, “Stone Mountain.” ↩︎

  8. Kansas City Sun, “Stone Mountain.” ↩︎

  9. Chicago Defender, “Rebel Image on Mountain Criticized.” ↩︎

  10. Chicago Defender, “Rebel Image on Mountain Criticized.” ↩︎

  11. (Simmons, “The Week.”) ↩︎

  12. (Simmons, “The Week.”) ↩︎

  13. (Simmons, “The Week.”) ↩︎

  14. Pittsburgh Courier, “Let Stone Mountain Alone.” ↩︎