In January, a documentary about the legacy of Stone Mountain premiered at the Atlanta History Center. Now, you can watch it at home.
“Monument: The Untold Story of Stone Mountain” will make its broadcast television premiere on WABE TV on March 20 at 9 p.m. The 30-minute film reflects on the social and political context that led to the completion of the Confederate monument in 1972 – more than a century after the end of the Civil War.
The documentary investigates the mountain’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan and also dives into the mythology behind The Lost Cause, which frames the Civil War as a heroic endeavor centered on states’ rights rather than slavery.
The Atlanta History Center started a Confederate monuments initiative in 2016 designed to help people address Confederate monuments in their communities. “Monument,” said the film’s Executive Producer Kristian Weatherspoon, is an extension of that work.
Weatherspoon, who is also the vice president of digital storytelling for the Atlanta History Center, recently sat down with Rough Draft Atlanta to discuss the creation of the film. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you and the Atlanta History Center come to the story of Stone Mountain?
Kristian Weatherspoon: Work around Stone Mountain, and Confederate monuments in general, was work that the History Center had been doing for the last seven years. In 2016, we produced a white paper that is online as part of the resources that outlined all of this history. It was a pretty detailed outline, that kind of just talked about what was the history of Stone Mountain. That was part of a larger Confederate monuments interpretation guide that exists on our website as well.
These are conversations that we know are happening in communities – maybe not about Stone Mountain, but about, maybe, local monuments. And so, the idea was to provide some basis for those discussions. The monument guide talks about, you know, when was it erected, looking at the speeches at these erection dedication ceremonies, to really explore what was the true meaning and intent of these monuments being placed in these areas.
When I came on to the History Center staff two years ago, this was the work that the History Center had been doing. But it was something that we really wanted to elevate. It was a natural starting point for us. So I like to say that “Monument” the film, the short documentary, really is that white paper and that work that the History Center has been doing kind of come to life.
What was your relationship to and knowledge of Stone Mountain before you started doing this work?
Weatherspoon: My connection to the carving itself honestly was fairly limited. I had visited Stone Mountain a few times. I’m not from Georgia originally, I’m from Mississippi. So the context that I had for this issue in general was not specific to Stone Mountain, but having grown up in the South, really understanding and seeing a lot of these symbols in general exist around me.
I was born in rural Mississippi and grew up in Jackson. So a lot of these discussions were discussions that my family had been a part of, had been having. I wasn’t, obviously, completely foreign to the issue, having that context. But with the carving specifically, I visited the mountain a few times to hike it, much like a ton of other people. I think, much like other folks, it’s striking how diverse that space is now.
When I got here and read the white paper, so much of it was eye opening, you know – having the general context around what The Lost Cause was. But to really have the opportunity to kind of dig deeper was really exciting and just flat out interesting, because again, so much of it I didn’t know. So as I approached the film, and approached the making of the film, it really was a goal of mine to be able to help people who watch the film create an “aha moment.”
Was there anything you learned through the process about the Stone Mountain story that surprised you?
Weatherspoon: Obviously, the fact that it was completed in the 1970s is just so striking. That was the thing that stuck out in my mind initially. So honestly, that is the reason it’s at the front of the film. It is kind of the mic drop moment, I’ve been saying.
But also, at a deeper level, the impact and the connection that women had to not just Stone Mountain, but to the perpetuation of The Lost Cause. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, looking at their entire crusade to memorialize this, it wasn’t just meant to happen through monuments. It was meant to permeate educational systems, you know, kind of every facet of society. And to a large extent, they were extremely successful.
I was struck by that watching it as well, how much women were at the forefront. Why do you think that is?
Weatherspoon: I don’t know. The way it was done was, if I can use the word, clever. At a very basic level, it was. Just the sheer work that it took to not only perpetuate it, but in a very real way to raise money for it, to see it all the way through – it’s really fascinating.
I don’t know that I have a thought about why they did it. You know, part of the film was really bringing in a lot of perspectives, and the perspective of women who were part of the UDC. It’s a perspective that many people share. And I think that’s part of the reason why it was just flat out successful. Because it was a perspective, and a thought, and a belief that not just a few people, but pretty large swaths of the South could resonate with, for whatever reason.
I think the goal for me was to include as many perspectives as I could, because I think we do believe at the History Center that as you think about solving these large issues, you’ve got to start from the same set of facts. You’ve got to come from a common space. We really think that history gives people that. It gives people that really, really important context. Like most polarizing issues, the crazier it gets, you lose a lot of the context. So I think as a historical institution, we saw this particular topic and this particular film as an opportunity to add that context back into the conversation – give people the same set of facts, and give people a good starting point to have this conversation.
How do you go about figuring out who to speak to and who to include when you’re making something like this?
Weatherspoon: The filmmaking process for this project took about two years. And honestly, the better part of the first year was identifying who we wanted to talk with. I really specifically was looking for people who not only had the expertise to talk about the issue, but people who had a connection to the carving itself. As Stone Mountain is a national issue, I think we’ve heard this issue discussed at the national level from a number of people. But this film really intentionally talks to southern people. It talks to people who are from this region, who are from Georgia, who really understand in a very real way how this issue impacts people’s everyday lives.
It’s the reason that for Cynthia [Neal Spence, associate professor of sociology], even in her expertise through the work she does at Spelman [College], she and Donna [Barron, daughter of the chief carver of Stone Mountain] can both talk about the carving through the context of their fathers. I really want it to, in a real way, wrap narrative and personal experience around a lot of the facts. The facts are there, the History Center had laid those out in that white paper. But the goal was to wrap narrative around it and make it something that people could really see, you know? Like, put a face on this issue. It’s a real thing. You can’t just relegate it to just a carving. People have really real experiences with these kinds of issues and ideologies.
I think the inclusion of Donna Barron does help with that. I had never really thought about the familial connection, and she is sort of the outlier of some of the opinions in the documentary. But it’s important to have that perspective as well.
Weatherspoon: Yeah, and you know, Donna was extremely transparent with us and extremely open in sharing her story. As she articulated in the film, for her the connection is her father and she directly ties that to his legacy and how she remembers him. So I think, when you think about this in the larger context of southern memory – you know, how do we remember these historical [events], how has the South traditionally remembered these historical events – her memory of her father drives that home, because this is personal.
The Lost Cause mythology in part was really successful because these are things that were passed down from generation to generation, within families. That’s part of the reason why, again, I think it has been able to be perpetuated for a while. That’s a piece of the conversation that we can’t lose. People have differing perspectives around it, but just to have that full conversation we’ve got to have these perspectives at the table. Both a Donna and a Cynthia – both of them have to be there.
Speaking of things being passed down – another thing that really struck me was former Gov. Roy Barnes saying that he didn’t realize the South had lost The Civil War when he learned about it in school. That’s definitely changed since I’ve gone through school, but that was just so striking to me.
Weatherspoon: It is! It’s extremely striking. Even for me, having grown up in the South and being steeped in the Deep South going through this process, it really helped me to think through and almost reckon with so much of the symbolism. I’ve seen it my entire life, and it’s almost become – it’s just part of it, you know? Being from Mississippi, our flag didn’t come down until a few years ago during the pandemic. Seeing those things, I was like, wow – I really lived with and among this symbolism for forever. You learn to just think about it [as] just part of the culture here. Going through this, I’m thinking about, why do I feel like that? It was really great for me to be able to have those kinds of conversations with really smart people.
What is the number one take away you hope people have from this documentary?
Weatherspoon: For me, the number one takeaway would be – yes, you may see your perspective in there, but hopefully you walk away with a different perspective, having heard or seen a different perspective.
I don’t set out with the idea necessarily to change minds, but to offer – at least just offer – different perspectives that people may not have thought about before. That would be the goal for me. I think thus far, we’ve seen some of the reception to be just that, so I’m really excited about it. I’m excited about this being used as a tool, and being used as a tool to really educate people around not just this history, but the idea that telling the true history is important.