The state-appointed Stone Mountain Memorial Association board voted Tuesday to create an exhibit at the park to teach Georgians and tourists about the role of African-Americans in the Civil War.
The idea first got attention when park officials suggested a separate monument atop Stone Mountain honoring Martin Luther King Jr. The board hasn’t yet discussed that concept.
“Certainly either one of them are (sic) a step forward and we're going to start with this one and see where it goes,” said Bill Stephens, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association CEO.
Stephens is now charged with leading the effort to determine what the new exhibit, which will honor both Confederate and Union soldiers, will look like.
“We'll explore the history of both sides of the North and South when it comes to African-American service in the Civil War and we'll come to some understanding of how we can best tell that story over time,” he said.
Stephens said there will be public meetings and consultation with prominent African-American figures like John Lewis, Andrew Young and Democratic congressman Hank Johnson.
Former state Rep. and U.S. Senate candidate Michael Thurmond spoke to the board at the meeting.
African-American Civil War soldiers are an important part of Southern history, Thurmond said.
“Of the 200,000 black men who did fight on the Union side, 90 percent of them were former slaves here in the South,” he said.
Kevin Levin, a historian who writes the blog Civil War Memory, said African-American soldiers played a big role in the Union army, but there's no evidence they willingly fought for the South.
“This is a myth that has only recently come on to the scene, and it's fueled in large part by the Internet. You'll find a lot of these stories on web site after web site, without the Internet you really do not have this myth.”
During a rally at Stone Mountain last weekend, protestors against the concept of a monument to King, waved Confederate flags and denied stories of African-American Confederate soldiers were false.
Protestor Joseph Olah, when asked about an exhibit to honor African-American soldiers who fought in the war, said he was opposed to anything at the mountain that did not solely memorialize Confederate veterans.
“We’re not going to have a mixed, North and South, Union and Confederate soldier. No. This is a Southern museum and it needs to be that way going forward,” he said.
Carolyn Meadows, the chair of the Stone Mountain Association board, said the board has been discussing a tribute to African-American soldiers for a few months, but the idea hadn’t come up before then.
“It just was not a thought that had ever been birthed, but through ignorance perhaps. Not an effort to ignore.”
Meadows says she expects the board to hear more details about the exhibit next year.