The Changing Face of Stone Mountain

In the shadow of a towering Confederate memorial — and a difficult history — a small Georgia town looks to the future

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

It may appear that not much has changed in the tiny town of Stone Mountain. Main Street looks the way it has — more or less — for the past 100 years. The village's old granite train depot is still right in the heart of town...but today it serves as City Hall. And in City Hall, there's a new mayor — a mayor who many say symbolizes just how much things have changed around here.

This, after all, is a town with a difficult past. Just beyond its borders is the granite mountain that gave the town its name — a mountain that carries, carved in its stone, an enormous memorial to the Confederacy. It is also the mountain where, in 1915, the Ku Klux Klan staged their 20th-century rebirth. For much of this century, the KKK held annual rallies at Stone Mountain, first on the mountain itself, and then in the village.

The folks in town — black and white — insist that despite the Klan's annual rallies there, race relations in Stone Mountain have always been smooth, or at least as smooth as race relations have ever been in the South, at any given moment in history. At this moment in history, the town seems to have caught up with the demographics of the surrounding region: about half its population, and half its electorate, is African-American. And recently — with biracial support, in a close election the press called "conspicuously unmarred by racial rhetoric" — the people of Stone Mountain voted in 47-year-old former city councilman Chuck Burris as the town's first black mayor. And this mayor is determined to make Stone Mountain not only a great place to live, but a symbol of racial healing instead of racial hatred.

Stone Mountain "is where the Old South and the New South meet," the new mayor tells writer Minna Morse early in her visit to the town. During her stay, Morse explores the village and its people, the town's history, and the history of the mountain that looms behind it — finding in the process just how much his claim rings true.

PAID CONTENT

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus