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Reviewed by:
  • Monument: The Untold Story of Stone Mountain
  • Martin Blatt
Monument: The Untold Story of Stone Mountain (2023)
Executive Producer: Kristian Weatherspoon
Produced for the Atlanta History Center
32 minutes

Stone Mountain Monument is the largest Confederate monument in the world “right on the doorstep of Atlanta. That is really weird,” states Claire Haley, Vice President of Democracy Initiatives, Atlanta History Center (AHC), as the film opens. More appropriate characterizations might be offensive, grotesque, racist.

The documentary, Monument: The Untold Story of Stone Mountain, adequately conveys the development of the monument. Organizers with ties to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) conceived the project in 1915 and hired Gutzon Borglum, who was later fired and went on to craft Mount Rushmore. The Confederate Memorial Association then hired Augustus Lukeman but ran out of money and options. The project lay dormant until the 1950s when white supremacists, led by Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin, reacted to Brown v. Board of Education by reviving the project. Directed by chief sculptor Walter Kirtland Hancock and chief carver Roy Faulkner, the monument, a celebration of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, was ultimately completed in 1972. Stone Mountain is now one of the most visited parks in Georgia, combining natural beauty with recreational activities drawing millions of visitors annually.

The most dramatic and effective parts of the documentary relate the intimate KKK connections. The film includes 1915 footage of a Klan initiation ceremony and a 1973 rally on Stone Mountain. The 1973 footage reveals men in white robes burning a cross while one shouts, “Burn, nigger, burn!” The film includes several commentators: AHC President and CEO Sheffield Hale, AHC staff, multiple scholars, a leading historic preservationist of Black sites, a young social activist from Decatur, Georgia, and Donna Barron, the daughter of chief carver Roy Faulkner. The filmmakers provide Barron a prominent place in the film, a choice which is perplexing, inappropriate, and disturbing. In one scene, Barron addresses a meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans where she declared that her father “risked his life on a daily basis” and that during his eight and a half years of work, “Every day Daddy raised and lowered a Confederate flag.” Later, she complains about erasure or change of history, referring to the movement to remove Confederate monuments. Really, who cares what she thinks or what she has to say other than her fellow white supremacists? I certainly gained no insights from her major presence in the film.

Instead, the filmmakers could have interviewed Kara Walker, the notable Black artist who works across media to “address racial prejudice and inequality” in contemporary society. In her best-known work, “she uses silhouettes to create provocative imagery using a visual vocabulary dating to the antebellum era.” Her exaggeration of “racist stereotypes and the graphic depiction of violence in large scale installations…satirize the false propriety of the slaveholding Old South,” speaking directly to [End Page 45] modern issues of race, identity, privilege, and injustice.2

Walker moved with her family from California to Atlanta when she was thirteen years old and settled in the city of Stone Mountain. Prompted by the murders of nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, Walker organized the 2015 exhibition, “Go to Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First.” The centerpiece of the exhibit, according to Thomas Brown, was a “sixty-foot-long silhouette panel, installed next to a wall-sized photograph of Stone Mountain, that reimagined the Confederate memorial as a vast tableau of racial violence, often sexual violence enacted with implements of martial order like a sword and a flag.” The High Museum of Atlanta purchased this monumental work entitled “The Jubilant Martyrs of Obsolescence and Ruin,” which they had on display from 2018–2020 and which will go back on view at some point in the future.3

Walker would have no doubt provided a lively interview for the film. Ari Marcopoulos, who collaborated with Walker by producing the large photo image, and Walker were interviewed about their work in the publication i-D. She characterized the memorial as an “offense to nature” but noted that “you can’t destroy it without destroying...