Atlanta, Georgia is facing renewed calls for the removal of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial after activists expressed outrage over the monument's planned reopening on Independence Day weekend.
The nine-storey-high bas-relief sculpture was temporarily closed after the ongoing coronavirus pandemic hit the US, but many activists have long demanded its permanent removal due to its controversial history.
Recent demands for the monument to be expunged have been fuelled by national civil unrest caused by the death of George Floyd and subsequent calls for officials to tear down representations of slavery and colonial power across the US.
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) civil rights group staged a march last week insisting the carving should be scrapped from the mountainside.
“Here we are in Atlanta, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and still we have the largest Confederate monument in the world,” said Gerald Griggs, a vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP.
“It's time for our state to get on the right side of history.”
The over 100-metre monument, completed in 1972 on a rock face northeast of Atlanta, features the likenesses of Jefferson Davis, the president of the 11-state Confederacy, and two of its military leaders, Robert E Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
All three men featured on the monument were slave owners.
“The whole of Stone Mountain was erected to show what some white Georgians revered,” Maurice J Hobson, an associate professor of African American Studies at Georgia State University said.
The mountain has also long held symbolism for white supremacists, with the Klu Klux Klan using it as the location of a rebirth ceremony in 1915 with flaming crosses.
The extremist organisation is still reported to hold occasional gatherings near the monument, often met with protesters behind police tape.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, defenders of the "Southern Cause", have argued that the removal of the carving is like an act of purging American history.
The Southern Cause argues the civil war was fought to defend states' rights to withdraw from the Union in the face of Northern aggression, rather than the preservation of slavery.
Prof Hobson described the Southern Cause as "a false history" that downplays slavery's role in the war.
John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association said that the debate over the monument has been going on for years and that they are "sensitive to it.”
“We want to tell history as it is, not as some say it is," he said.
Prof Hobson has suggested more carvings should be added to the rock face, including African American historical figures and civil rights leaders.
“It needs to be put in a context that forces a conversation, a serious conversation,” he said. “The easiest way to rectify it, is surround it.”
However, Mr Griggs of the NAACP said that there is no question that the monument should be fully removed.
“Take it down,” he said. “Restore the mountain to its original condition.”
Additional reporting by Reuters.
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