For over a year now, Andrew and I have held a membership to Stone Mountain Park, just outside Atlanta. The Rock, as we like to call it, just twenty minutes from our house, is heavily wooded and surrounded by a fresh lake in which our dog Ivy loves to swim. The Rock, itself, which stands at the center of the park, is a humpbacked granite slab resembling a somber whale or a planetary hemisphere.
We love the place’s peacefulness – the view of local crew teams gliding across the lake’s early morning glimmer in conjunction with ducks in low flight is truly soul-settling – and we love that it gives our little family a taste of the great outdoors in the midst of a bustling metropolis.
But we also love and are intrigued by Stone Mountain’s irony.
The Rock is of sad history. In 1915, hooded men in white robes revived the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) atop the lovely granite monolith, burning a cross in celebration. This “reincarnation” of the Klan was led by a man named William J Simmons, and featured Nathan Bedford Forest II (the grandson of the KKK’s original Imperial Grand Wizard) administering oaths. The group had permission of The Rock’s owner to hold all its rallies there and in 1924 commissioned a stone carving of the South’s Confederate heroes on its mountainside. (The KKK supplied half the funding for the artwork; the US government supplied the rest of the money.)
Today, however, few signs of the hatred and fear that characterized Stone Mountain for so many years remain. The carving is still there, of course, and throughout the summer the park puts on a campy laser show to which tourists flock and clap along to the tune of Dixie. The Confederate memorial, which details information about Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, is also there but rarely highlighted and does not appear to draw any crowds at all.
Far more prevalent than signs of bigotry at Stone Mountain are the African Americans who use the park grounds as a meeting place for cookouts, who bike, walk and run the trails surrounding The Rock, who fish in the lake and let their dogs run free through the woods. They have claimed Stone Mountain for themselves, not any more or any less than the rest of us, but equally, in light of forgiveness, in light of progress.
The juxtaposition of these two entities – proud Confederates and those they fought to oppress – is just downright bizarre. But it is also because of this juxtaposition that it feels as if the spirit of Stone Mountain has been set free, as if something very wrong has been righted there.
Earlier this summer, Andrew and I saw a group of young black boys – maybe between the ages of seven and ten – chasing one another up the sidewalk by the park grounds. They were laughing and squealing and running as fast as their little legs could carry them. And I was so glad for them to be out of the city, to know the feel of fresh air, however hot and humid, to be assured for them that times do change, and that they have.
I saw in the boys’ faces the joy that I hope for our country, a country that may, indeed, be at the cusp of electing its first African-American President.
If Obama is not our nation‘s hope – the leader of a revival forced from hard times – he may still be the hope of all the little black boys sprinting full speed through the trees at Stone Mountain, an iconic figure for the future America.
The future America. What will it be? I pray for a place, like The Rock, that can overcome its history; for a place that seeks justice and loves mercy; for a place that makes those who live in it healthier, happier, and freer in both mind and spirit.
Until then, we will seek refuge among Stone Mountain’s ironies, waiting, patiently, for change.
9 thoughts on “Change”
Towles, Thank you for that essay on change. I am holding my breath and hoping against hope that Obama will win in November. Maybe this time we can get beyond self interests in this country and try to make it a fairer place for all. I am ready for an administration that takes on the issues of the day rather than trying to deny them.
I have started to comment a bunch of times, but I’m not sure what to say. My comment’s more on the state of things than it is on your post. I wish the focus of our political discussions these days weren’t on “black man” and “woman” and were instead on what the leaders of our parties are going to do about energy and war and education and the economy.
I have a million reasons to vote against McCain. I want to look at reasons, other than symbolic ones, to vote for Obama.
Leslie – I hear your frustration. I know what you mean and have heard a lot of people say the same thing. Here, I was really just musing about that word “change” and how we’ve been seeing our world progress in a broader sense. It wasn’t really supposed to be an overtly political post, though I understand why people would read it that way.
Andrew and I were just talking about the sort of social and economic impact it may have on our country to elect a black president – what if it means kids in the inner-city see that they can do something more with their lives? So they pull themselves up off the streets and begin doing productive things, getting decent educations, etc.
This essay grew out of the idea of change as an abstract thought that eventually leads to change for the better as a reality.
The problem with the political discussions about the “black man” is that they don’t go deep enough. Probably the same for the political discussions about women, though I’m from a generation of women that doesn’t feel surprised at all that a woman could hold high political office and would therefore never vote for someone based on gender (or race, for that matter).
Our country’s political discussions are tired. It seems that even though the candidates change, the discussions do not. This post was not intended to perpetuate that!
I appreciate your essay as well. McKittrick and I were just talking this weekend about the state of our country and the sense of hope that we all need (in our individual lives as well as in the greater face of our nation). I was wondering in fact, what the Lord would want if he in fact were walking on the earth physically today. I am sure he would laugh in the fact of diehard republicans and democrats and instead just advocate hope itself, love, and yes, I think, change.
Thanks for writing, as always!
This was a great way to spark my somewhat “soft” brain on a Monday afternoon. Not to turn this into too political of a posting, but somehow I am good at that. The more I have been watching the candidates talk about change, the more I have swayed from a strong support of either party. Change, in my humble opinion, comes not from rhetoric, great speeches, a well-bought education, status, popularity, or personal gifts of character. Rather it is born from being connected to our Creator and experiencing the turbulance of that power. That is the kind of change tha brings obedience, lawfulness, morality, and selflessness. I do believe those things are not the role of any governemnt (with exceptioin to protection of the people) but are the individual roles of people who have tapped into change or self-transformation against “the flesh.”
Let’s go back to our roots, the Constitution! Wish Ron Paul had more of a chance!
ps Frank and I also love the peacefulness of Stone Mountain- hope we can get back there sometime in the near future!
I wonder what our country would look like with its youth encouraged and hopeful? Perhaps challenged to think outside of themselves? This would be a revolution I would love to see.
I had not known the history of Stone Mountain. It is a good reminder to know that sometimes change comes slowly, but in the context of history, it can be quite radical. Patience and trust remain key…
Nice, Towles. Your observations are so insightful. I think that our generation is going to see some amazing amazing changes in America. And what you have written about is the beginning of that change. Obama is a visionary, despite his color. And I hope that all children, male, female, black, white, yellow, red and green can see what dreaming BIG can do.
Change is in the air.
I too spent many summers at Stone Mountain. My family, that refers to the civil war as the war of northern aggression, would go for the light show. It’s great to hear things have changed at the park. Love what you’ve written.
This is wonderful. I love the way you caught a moment and how it connected in your mind with the nation’s moment. Truly poetic—searching, immediate, timeless.
I used to know a painter, a southern boy, from South Carolina but I knew him in north Georgia, who was drafted for Vietnam, a war he passionately opposed, but decided to go. Why? He watched a little kid eating an ice cream cone. That’s all he told me, and I asked no more, and have never stopped thinking about it. His decision made as much sense as any other and was poetic: specific but groping toward larger truth that’s just out of reach.
To me, your little kids are like that. You see their innocence and wonder: what is the right thing for us to do to give them an America worthy of them?
And you are right: Obama. He has greatness about him and will help this nation. I sense it and I know it.