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Meet Your Clan Members Here

Eleven years ago, barely a week after our family moved into our home in Sandy Springs, Georgia, the weekend edition of the “Atlanta Free Press” arrived at our doorstep. Tucked within its pages was a full-page ad for a Scottish festival at Stone Mountain. In oversized letters, the ad’s banner read “Meet Your Clan Members Here.”

You may recall the reference to Stone Mountain in Martin Luther King Jr.’s renowned “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.” King’s reference alluded to the November 1915 Stone Mountain gathering of the hooded charter members of the Ku Klux Klan to create a new iteration of the Klan. Today, Stone Mountain is carved with the largest bas-relief in the world depicting the three key Confederate leaders of the Civil War: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis.

“Meet your Clan Members Here” and “Meet your Klan Members Here” seem to overlap with far too much ease. Our comfortable American lifestyle overlays a history of profound evil. I am reminded of a line by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai: “And already the demons of my past are meeting with the demons of my future.” After the events of these past weeks, my fear is that in our nation and in our society, the demons of the past have not yet been expunged, accounted for or, for that matter, truly recognized as demons.

The recent spasm of racial hatred in Charlottesville speaks with frightening clarity of the unfinished business of collective nation building required in our country. In these past months, we have witnessed the chilling exposure and embracing of our inner demons along with the concurrent subjugation of our better angels.

Stone Mountain represents a striking metaphor for the normalization and glorification of racism that is enmeshed in the history and culture of our nation. Like the carved figures of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis that look down on us from 400 feet, racism is chiseled in our collective and individual consciousness. Unlike the bronze statues in New Orleans, Charlottesville, Baltimore and cities across the nation, neither this stone carving or our nation’s history of racism and its pernicious half-life can easily be crated and moved out of sight.

In looking up at Stone Mountain we have a choice. We can glorify an age marked by moral evils or we can recognize man’s inhumanity to man and commit ourselves to ensuring that the demons of our past do not also represent the demons of our future.

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