By Phil Kent –
An Oct. 11 front page headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution proclaimed: “A monument to MLK will crown Stone Mountain.” It was a reference to a controversial proposal to build a “liberty bell” tower atop the huge granite mountain to honor the late Martin Luther King, Jr. However, after InsiderAdvantage questioned members of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association board which oversees the sprawling state-owned park, the board is opposed to any such monument. They say that, at their regular meeting later this month, the proposal will be shelved. However, an exhibit honoring African-American soldiers in the Civil War will be considered.
The board has apparently decided, based on legal advice, that they aren’t authorized by state law to display a King memorial. State law, after all, stipulates that “the purposes of the association shall include maintaining an appropriate and suitable memorial for the Confederacy.” (O.C.G.A. § 12-3-192.1.)
Additionally, the association is obligated to “develop, manage, preserve, and protect Stone Mountain, [and] shall be guided by and shall adhere to the master plan.” O.C.G.A. § 12-3-194.2(a). The August 15, 2005 master plan provides that the association “entered into a long term public/private partnership with Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation to manage the park’s commercial operations.” Under that agreement, the board “supervises the lease with HFEC and retains the right to review and approve any proposed new development to insure compatibility and consistency with the park’s goals.” The master plan further echoes state law by saying that the Association “has a legislative mandate to maintain the park as a memorial to the Confederacy and a place of public recreation.”
Since O.C.G.A. § 12-3-192.1 specifically uses the word “shall” — instead of the permissive term of “may” when listing the purposes of the association– board members say they are statutorily mandated not to deviate from its directive of preserving the natural areas in the park and maintaining a memorial for the Confederate fallen. Since the erection of some mountaintop King shrine with fountains and paved areas obviously doesn’t memorialize the old Confederacy, the association would be acting outside of the powers it was granted by the state legislature.
The King proposal drew heated opposition, though for different reasons, from groups ranging from the Sons of Confederate Veterans to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King founded. They felt that mixing the King legacy with a Confederate memorial was incompatible.
Some association board members are also irritated with their own chief executive officer, former state legislator Bill Stephens, who initially supported the King proposal but later backed away when it became divisive.