Gov. Nathan Deal is set to appoint DeKalb County Chief Executive Michael Thurmond to the board that governs state-owned Stone Mountain, making him the only African-American member of the panel that oversees the nation’s largest monument to the Confederate war dead.
The announcement of Thurmond’s appointment is set to be made public on Friday, according to Deal chief of staff Chris Riley.
The governor said earlier this week that he hadn’t realized each of the 10 members of the of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association board was white, and that he would “certainly be open” to tapping an African-American leader to serve on the panel.
Stone Mountain and its towering carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is again at the center of debate over Rebel symbols after this month’s bloody violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Thurmond, whose county encompasses Stone Mountain, did not immediately comment on Thursday, but he earlier called on Deal to add diverse members to the board who would push for more context about slavery and the causes of the Civil War at Stone Mountain.
“The narrative has to become more inclusive. The idea of the mountain belonging to the KKK or the neo-Nazis — no, it belongs to the people of Georgia,” said Thurmond, also a Civil War historian. “It doesn’t belong to the Confederate veterans or the NAACP. We all have an investment here.”
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association was formed in 1958 and has contracted with Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. to run the attraction since 1998. It was unclear when the last African-American member left the authority governing board.
Thurmond’s appointment comes at a pivotal time for the attraction. State Rep. Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for governor, drew national attention last week for her vow to take a symbolic sandblaster to the mountain. The move would require a legislative change, since a 2001 law protects the carvings in the mount.
Abrams, who is African-American, said the carvings and other Confederate monuments “have nothing to do with any of our American history except for treason and domestic terrorism.”
Thurmond did not take a position on her proposal, and Deal signaled he would veto the legislation even if it survived a Republican-controlled Legislature.
Many residents have a vexing relationship with the site. The Ku Klux Klan was reborn on Stone Mountain about a century ago, but these days three of four residents in the town that surrounds the granite dome are African-American.
It’s also one of the state’s top tourism attractions and one of the most vibrant places in metro Atlanta. Since taking office in January, Thurmond has set out to reclaim the Stone Mountain brand for his county, nodding to the diverse crowd that flocks to the site every day.
“The narrative that birthed the carving of Stone Mountain is not the narrative that will be promoted by this county,” he said in an interview last week. “Stone Mountain is a place where people of all races, creeds and colors come every day.”