Day Care Kids: Thank you, God, for giving us food. Thank you, God, for giving us food…
Camille Bennett: We’re old school, so they have to wait until everybody is served and then they can sing, and then they can eat. So, they were like, “I just got, I’ve been waiting all this time. I’m not going to do it again.”
Geraldine Moriba: Attitude.
Camille Bennett: Attitude. Attitude.
Day Care Kids: Thank you, God, for giving us food.
Geraldine Moriba: This is season two of Sounds Like Hate, a podcast series from the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’m Geraldine Moriba.
Jamila Paksima: And I’m Jamila Paksima. We are examining where we come from, the history we accept as truth, and how sometimes our views influence the people we love towards violent extremist beliefs. This time we’re looking at how parts of American history continue to be systematically erased for generations. And how Black resistance to this erasure continues, yesterday and today.
Geraldine Moriba: This story is also about America and the way some people tell the history of the Civil War through a pro-Confederate lens. We’re reporting on the push to remove monuments and symbols of hate on public and government properties in Georgia, Texas and Alabama.
Camille Bennett: There are three classrooms here. And the ages range from birth to 3 years old. So, this is what you call Early Head Start or early, early infant care.
Geraldine Moriba: And on a normal day, how many kids are in each room or altogether?
Camille Bennett: Altogether on a normal day we have about 20 infants.
Geraldine Moriba: We met Camille Bennett in the first two parts of “Monumental Problems.” She’s the founder and executive director of Project Say Something, a civil rights organization in Florence, Alabama. They are dedicated to eliminating systemic racism, starting with the removal of a Confederate monument in front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse. Camille Bennett owns three child enrichment centers with her husband, Thomas Bennett.
Thomas Bennett: This is our raised beds, uh, garden is something that we wanted to do for a while, trying to introduce, you know, fresh vegetables to the kids. And we actually started, you can see up front there, those are planter bags that we hand out to parents. We want to start a healthy eating initiative in the community. I mean we very much work together in trying to make sure that not only are we heard within the community, but we’re offering solutions.
Geraldine Moriba: You visited all three preschools, checked on the kids. It’s only 10 a.m.
Camille Bennett: Yes.
Geraldine Moriba: And now you’re going to sit down at a desk and start to do the books.
Camille Bennett: Yes. And also, in between that time, check on Project Say Something.
[Camille and kids saying bye]
Geraldine Moriba: The kids receiving care at Bennett’s child enrichment centers are ages 6 weeks to 12 years, and 95% are Black.
Camille Bennett: So, our programs take what’s called C.M.A., that’s Child Care Management Agency, and that is a subsidy. Alabama is unique because 80% of the children that receive C.M.A. are Black children. That speaks to, like, wealth gaps and wealth disparities, here, in Alabama.
Geraldine Moriba: Wealth disparities reinforced by Alabama’s 1901 constitution.
Rep. Merika Coleman: The 1901 constitution, the spirit of it was to disenfranchise Black folks in the state of Alabama, as well as poor whites.
Geraldine Moriba: It includes language that bans interracial marriage. It also requires racial segregation in public schools, even though this was banned by the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. In November 2020, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment which could lead to the removal of racist language from the state’s constitution. Merika Coleman is the assistant minority leader of the Alabama House of Representatives who sponsored Amendment Four.
Rep. Merika Coleman: We passed that unanimously in both the House and the Senate. Then we put that out to the voters, overwhelming support from the voters of the state of Alabama. That gave me some hope for our state. Um, and now the document itself has to be recompiled.
Geraldine Moriba: If it’s approved by the legislature, it’ll return for another vote in 2022. Representative Coleman also attempted to block the Memorial Preservation Act from passing.
Rep. Merika Coleman: We just did not have the numbers to stop it. We have 140 members in the Alabama, uh, Legislature, both the House and the Senate. It is actually a supermajority. Of those 140 members, there are only 35 African-Americans. There are so many white Republicans that serve in the Alabama Legislature right now that literally if not one Black person, if not one Democrat showed up, they still could conduct business according to our laws. They would still have the majority. And for those of us that don’t want to have those images of slavery and death and destruction and treason in our communities, there will have to be a generational change. Um, we have redistricting coming up, we will have elections coming up, and I would really encourage younger people to start thinking about running for office.
Lecia Brooks: To date, 14 of Alabama’s 137 symbols have been removed from public space.
Jamila Paksima: Lecia Brooks is the chief of staff of the Southern Poverty Law Center, keeping track of these types of policy changes across the nation.
Lecia Brooks: 12 of those 14 were removed in 2020 alone.
Jamila Paksima: So, is that a good sign to you?
Lecia Brooks: That’s an excellent sign for Alabama. Alabama is one of six Southern states that has a preservation law that protects Confederate monuments and memorials, in fact, prevents community members from removing these monuments and memorials. So, this is excellent.
Geraldine Moriba: Jamila, what do Confederate Generals Hardee, Pickett, Forrest, Hood, Bragg, Stuart, Jackson, Lee and Daniels all have in common?
Jamila Paksima: I have no idea.
Geraldine Moriba: They are varieties of soybeans named after Confederate generals. Soybeans.
Jamila Paksima: Okay, Geraldine. I found one, too: Have you heard about the John P. McGowan thick-billed longspur?
Geraldine Moriba: Tell me.
Jamila Paksima: According to the Audobon Society, it’s named after an avian collector and Confederate General McGowan who fought against Native Americans and defended slavery in the Civil War.
Geraldine Moriba: And that’s the problem: These little nods to the Confederacy are cumulative. They inform our beliefs and perceptions, and deliberately perpetuate false versions of history. It’s why Alabama has three Confederate-related holidays: There’s Robert E. Lee’s birthday, which is celebrated on the same day as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, and a Confederate Memorial Day, and a holiday for the birthday of the man who was president of the Confederate States for four years.
Jamila Paksima: This sanitized version of history is also why there are still nearly 1,800 Confederate symbols on public land across America. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Whose Heritage? report, about one-third of those symbols are monuments. So common are these statues that there used to be companies devoted to creating them.
Tram Conductor: My name is India Western and I’m a sky ride conductor at Stone Mountain Park. Please hold on…
Jamila Paksima: Georgia has its own unique celebration of hate: Stone Mountain Park, one of the state’s most popular attractions, is also home to America’s largest Confederate monument. Covering 3,200 acres, the park opened in 1965 at the height of the American civil rights movement. What most people don’t realize, even the millions who visit the park each year, is the carving of this giant Confederate monument was only completed in 1970.
Tram Conductor: We are gonna start off slow, but once we pass these trees, we are going to go a little faster at 12 miles per hour. It should take us two-and-a-half minutes to reach the top of the mountain.
Jamila Paksima: The relief – 190 feet across and 90 feet tall – is carved into the world’s largest exposed chunk of granite rock.
Tram Conductor: And it’s even bigger than Mount Rushmore by 30 feet. You guys have however long you want at the top of the mountain. Whenever you guys are ready to ride back down, just enter this building and we will get you on the next tram available.
Lecia Brooks: Stone Mountain is a huge, huge boulder that it will take strong and consistent organizing on everyone’s part to have this removed. But it’s important that people know that Stone Mountain signaled the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.
Jamila Paksima: The sculptor who designed Mount Rushmore was a leading member of the KKK, and also involved in the initial creation of Stone Mountain.
Lecia Brooks: On Nov. 25, 1915, over a dozen men gathered at the top of Stone Mountain to revive the Ku Klux Klan. And this was the Klan’s resurgence that led into the reign of racial terror against Black people. People need to understand that you cannot take a symbol of hate and, and white supremacy, the, kind of the playground for the Ku Klux Klan, and then make it into a family theme park.
Jamila Paksima: In 2004, Stone Mountain Park opened Confederate Hall, a historical and environmental education center. It has a theater featuring two documentaries. One is about the half-century it took to build the Confederate carving. The other covers the Civil War. It does not include the history of this site as the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.
Geraldine Moriba: By design, this Confederate monument was built to be seen. Miles away, if you’re elevated above Atlanta’s dense tree line with an unobstructed view, you can see Stone Mountain. In fact, if you stand on the subway platform at King Memorial MARTA Station, which is near Ebenezer Baptist Church where Reverend Martin Luther King Senior preached, you can see the mountain in the distance. In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he said: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.” King cried out for truth and liberty at the peak of the most notorious symbol of hate in the state he called home.
Michael Thurmond: He understood that freedom, uh, ringing from the mountain where the Ku Klux Klan, or at least the modern Klan was born, would have profound and lasting impact that would resonate, uh, all across the world.
Geraldine Moriba: Michael Thurmond is the author of Freedom: Georgia’s Antislavery Heritage, 1733-1865.
Michael Thurmond: When you go to the seat and the center of hatred and you proclaim freedom, that is a powerful, powerful statement.
Geraldine Moriba: He’s also the first African American elected to the Georgia General Assembly from Clarke County since Reconstruction. Today, he is the chief executive officer of Dekalb County, where this massive symbol of the “Lost Cause” mythology stands in a community that’s 55% Black.
Michael Thurmond: Before the arrival of, uh, white colonists and enslaved Africans, of course, it was a spiritual, uh, an important landmark in a place, uh, where Native Americans gathered to not just, uh, celebrate their spirituality, uh, but also it was a landmark on an important trade route. So, the history predates the arrival of Europeans.
Geraldine Moriba: In 2020, a 30-foot obelisk Confederate monument, which stood for 112 years, was removed from nearby Decatur Square in Dekalb County and put in storage.
[Take it down! Take it down!]
Michael Thurmond: I removed the Confederate, uh, obelisk from the square in Decatur. I did that. So I understand how that works. We did it at midnight.
Geraldine Moriba: Thurmond says the battle is not to remove Civil War monuments; it’s to replace Confederate lies.
Michael Thurmond: We ought to put up Civil War monuments. Oftentimes, the facts may lead you to a place of pain and, and hurt and disappointment. I think we can take this place where the Ku Klux Klan was born, where convict, uh, labor was used, and let it become a place that totally contradicts the original hope or dream of those who built a park based on racism and hatred. But that lesson and that history can be the fuel that leads us to a better place.
Jamila Paksima: Stone Mountain is located at 1000 Robert E. Lee Boulevard, 16 miles east of Atlanta. Named after the Confederate general, the relief covers more than 17,000 square feet on one side of the mountain and is 40-feet deep in the crannies. It is adorned with a carving of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis, each riding horses. The irony is Robert E. Lee himself expressed criticism of monuments and symbols honoring his role and other Civil War generals. He wrote, “I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.” But no one listened and those Confederate tributes proliferated.
Geraldine Moriba: Stone Mountain has become a meeting point for white power extremists, where they gather year after year.
Chief Roberts: This is Chief Roberts, at this time I need you to disperse the area. Your time is up. Do it orderly or you will be arrested for disorderly conduct.
Geraldine Moriba: It’s also a place where civil rights defenders march against hate.
News Reporter: You’re not gonna believe this: Some 250 pastors got together and put this thing together.
Geraldine Moriba: In 2015, after the massacre of nine members of a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the carving on Stone Mountain became a focal point for debate over Confederate symbolism.
Lecia Brooks: I believe that once people turn their attention to it, that mountain can come down too.
Jamila Paksima: What do you think of the corporate sponsors of this private mound?
Lecia Brooks: I think there’s no way for corporate sponsors to, um, reason their support of Stone Mountain away. They cannot separate themselves, extricate themselves from Stone Mountain’s connection to white supremacy in the Klan, in particular. One of the founders of Coca-Cola fought for the Confederacy.
Jamila Paksima: John Stith Pemberton was an American biochemist and a Confederate States army veteran who is best known as the inventor of Coca-Cola.
Brian Morris: You have people on this family tree that are revered, not only in Atlanta, but nationally or around the world. They all have ties into this monstrosity.
Jamila Paksima: Brian Morris is a banker. In June of 2020, he also became an activist. Morris is the co-founder of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition.
Brian Morris: Obsession is a, uh, pretty emotionally charged word, and it’s probably accurate ‘cause this is a very emotionally charged topic. And I’ve lived in Atlanta since 1991 and until this summer, I have been to Stone Mountain once, and that was when my children were very young, and it was more of a family trip to ride the ducks and ride a train.
News Reporter 1: Hundreds of protesters dressed in black, armed with assault rifles and a passionate plea at Stone Mountain Park today, demanding the carving of Confederate figures be removed from the mountain…
News Reporter 2: Now the protesters who want to protect the Confederacy are supposed to start their rally here tomorrow morning…
[Black lives matter! Black lives matter!]
Jamila Paksima: The tipping point for many was the 2020 deadly and senseless murders of Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd.
Brian Morris: The fact that the largest Confederate memorial and a true symbol of hate and oppression, and symbolism of white supremacy is in my backyard is just no, I just couldn’t tolerate it anymore. And I also felt that there was finally enough groundswell that people who want to change it would actually be listened to.
Jamila Paksima: Morris started investigating the financial trail of wealthy citizens who created their own origin story for Stone Mountain. In 1963, they brazenly published their mission with an ad in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Brian Morris: In the, in the largest newspaper in the town, this isn’t like it was like a Klan newspaper, “Bring the wife and kids!”
Jamila Paksima: The largest cross burning ever held. And the delegations from 46 states will be there and five foreign countries.
Brian Morris: They basically burned a 185-foot cross at the top of the mountain, um, or that’s what their plans were, per the newspapers. And they had hundreds of people there. There’s no denying that it occurred and the things that they did there were unbelievably racist. There’s a Getty image that shows, y’know, burning a cross in the background, but a police officer is one of the people being, you know, initiated into the Klan.
It was something for me to try to put my hands around: Who were these families, who are these people that were involved in this type of a thing? And what it basically showed me is that virtually everybody was involved.
The, uh, you know, highest echelon of the establishment was part of this process. Coca-Cola has been subsidizing or supporting directly, uh, the memorial since 1925. And that was back when they, they agreed to buy 10,000 coin certificates as part of the, uh, minting, uh, silver dollars to support the beginning of the construction of the memorial. The main families behind Stone Mountain are the Candler family, which is best known for Asa Griggs Candler, who was the founder of the Coca-Cola Company. He actually acquired the recipe for Coca-Cola. His nephew was pretty much the, the mastermind behind the aggregation of the property around the mountain. These people were involved with the construction of this monument from the beginning.
Jamila Paksima: Today, Coca-Cola continues its support as the lead corporate sponsor of Stone Mountain Park.
Jamila Paksima: I went on the World of Coca-Cola website.
Brian Morris: Yep.
Jamila Paksima: They invite visitors to visit what they call the “top historical attraction in the US.” And they say Stone Mountain Park is “one of the most fun things to do in Atlanta.”
Brian Morris: And that’s not surprising, uh, and yet depressing.
Coca-Cola Commercial: I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…
Geraldine Moriba: We reached out to Coca-Cola asking for a response to the concerns about this company’s ongoing support of Stone Mountain Park. Coca-Cola responded with this statement, quote: “As you can imagine, we get quite a few requests and are not able to accommodate them all. We will pass on this opportunity,” end quote. Coca-Cola’s logo is still featured prominently on the Stone Mountain Park website. Other corporate sponsors include the Marriott Corporation, with a nearby hotel and convention center. In the last year, the Marriott Corporation logo was removed from the Stone Mountain Park website. They did not reply to our questions about the status of their sponsorship. The Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation is another sponsor. They run the attractions and concession stands at the park. In November 2020, the Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation asked to be released early from their contract. They issued a statement that said, quote: “Our guests and team members have recently shared that Stone Mountain Park feels increasingly less family friendly, welcoming and enjoyable, as the park is frequently the site of protests and division,” end quote. They’ll be terminating their association by July 2022.
Jamila Paksima: Who are the rightful owners of the mountain and the mound, in your opinion?
Brian Morris: Rightful today would be really the state of Georgia. Uh, obviously, it was acquired from the Indians.
Geraldine Moriba: As far back as 8,000 years ago, Native American nations such as the Creek, Cherokee and Muscogee settled in the area. Stone Mountain was a part of their major trade routes and used for sacred ceremonies. Today, there is no information around the park explaining how these lands were ceded to the state of Georgia.
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Jamila Paksima: Banker Brian Morris has ideas about what to do with this giant Confederate monument.
Brian Morris: It’s a beautiful piece of property, and it should be a state park like any other state park in Georgia, there’s no need for them to have totally destroyed the north face of the mountain. And there’s no need for a Confederate Hall – Memorial Hall, and then change the names of streets and boulevards from Confederate veterans and KKK supporters to people that, uh, deserve appropriate recognition or just change the names to something that’s much more benign. There’s no need for that type of representation in today’s world.
Jamila Paksima: And what about the actual carving on the mountain, what do you see as a solution for that?
Brian Morris: Well, like a lot of folks would like to just dynamite it off, and I understand that. My, my feeling on that is I would prefer there to be no more harm made to the mountain, that you let nature take back over. Cover it with vegetation. Let it slowly degrade. It’s held together in certain spots with, you know, nuts and bolts that over time, if they’re not maintained, the thing’s going to fall apart. Nature’s already sort of reclaiming it, and I would prefer that be sort of the avenue that, that we take.
Christy Coleman: What have you chosen to ignore in favor of elevating something that was so catastrophic to millions of people? To preserve white supremacy and white control over Black bodies.
Jamila Paksima: Christy Coleman is the former CEO of the Civil War Museum and the current executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Christy Coleman: Stone Mountain is a really interesting, uh, phenomenon. It infringed on Indigenous land to build it, as did Mount Rushmore. But it is also indicative of this desire to elevate Confederate war icons to a status of, of nation builders/founders. Right? It’s, it’s, uh, what people choose to do with it moving forward is going to be really interesting. I mean, this is not something you can pick up and move. The laser light shows and the dramatic reenactments that are cast on it, people get out there and yee-haw and wave their flags, I don’t think is appropriate. But that community in that state has to decide.
Jamila Paksima: Why are there so few monuments and memorials reminding us of slavery in America?
Christy Coleman: Because it happened here. We had more prominence and more stories and more emphasis on the Holocaust that happened during World War II than we did on enslavement in the United States. And part of the reason for that is the continued subjugation of those groups.
Jamila Paksima: The nightly laser light show draws enormous crowds throughout the summer. The irony of Stone Mountain Park’s Confederate monument is it’s visited by people of all races and ethnicities every day. They walk past several Confederate flags waving on a terrace and a plaque which states: “The flags are flown here in patriotic devotion to country and loving tribute to the Confederate valor.” Thurmond says erasing this “Lost Cause” propaganda means starting with the removal of these flags.
Michael Thurmond: You can remove the Confederate flags that are being, uh, flown at Stone Mountain. You can change the name of some of the streets and, and other attractions. Uh, you can rewrite and create a more accurate history of the mountain, and you can create a history that’s more inclusive. Rather than a “Lost Cause” amusement park, it can become a Civil War park that will allow, uh, historians and others to tell the truth, and that truth will include the fact that 200,000 Black men fought in the struggle.
And it’s a freedom that was earned, uh, by the bravery and sacrifice of over 200,000 Black men who, following the Emancipation Proclamation, stepped forward and volunteered to fight for their freedom, as well as the freedom of their brothers and sisters who were still enslaved. They joined the Union effort and ultimately saved America and abolished, uh, chattel slavery in this nation. In common vernacular, the good guys won.
Geraldine Moriba: History is meant to be remembered, but not all history is meant to be celebrated. Here’s a fact worthy of commemoration: Black Americans fought for their independence before the Civil War, during the war, and ever since.
Michael Thurmond: Why wouldn’t we want to acknowledge the agency of Black men, 90% of whom were former slaves, and marched out and to fight and fight bravely for their freedom?
Geraldine Moriba: Other solutions which have emerged for Stone Mountain include the construction of a bell tower at the highest point to note it was mentioned in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, and the creation of a museum about the role of African Americans in the Civil War. So far, neither idea has advanced.
Jamila Paksima: Back in Florence, Alabama, little has changed there either.
Lee Murkey: I was in ninth grade, and we were learning about the Civil War.
Jamila Paksima: Lee Murkey, the children’s book illustrator and member of Project Say Something, says the effort to move the Confederate monument goes on. He also decided to take on the false history he was taught in high school.
Lee Murkey: And in the history book it said that the Civil War was fought over tariffs and taxes and states’ rights. So I raised my hand and said: “No, it was fought over slavery. Why can’t we just say it was fought over slavery?” I was told to stand in the hallway until the class was over, and the teacher said if I had an issue, I can take that up with the person who wrote it, but I shouldn’t disrupt class.
Geraldine Moriba: So you were punished?
Lee Murkey: That’s correct. Yes.
Geraldine Moriba: What does that do to a 14-year-old?
Lee Murkey: It further alienated me from a class that I already didn’t really feel included in. Um, it made me not want to speak out anymore. But what it didn’t do was make me less curious. They’re not even doing the homework on their side. It shouldn’t be the case that I know more about the Confederacy than someone who’s defending the Confederacy, but here we are.
Brian Murphy: This is the work, and I will say to my colleagues and I will say to anyone listening, if you want to get involved in the work, it’s in small-town Alabama. It’s in the small towns in the South because this is what we’re confronting.
Geraldine Moriba: Historian and museum curator Brian Murphy is also continuing to advocate for the removal of the Confederate monument in Florence.
Brian Murphy: It is difficult to get in there, change that vocabulary, challenge the status quo, challenge the existing narrative and do it in a way that you’re going to come out not being bullied or run out of town or completely ignored. And so that is exactly the type of thing that we need to continuously do is to talk about truth from a variety of perspectives, and in a way that allows us to understand Florence for what it means for us as a community, right? For what this place really represents to all of its people. So often Florence is compared to Birmingham or Montgomery, or other places, and we really need to start looking at what happened in Florence, and what that did to shape the social conditioning of the people who live here and what that did to shape the culture that we have. I think it’s a, it’s a threat to white supremacy. It’s a threat to white solidarity. I often hear, “Well, we can’t judge people back then, right? During slavery.” And what they mean is white people, we can’t judge white people for enslaving because those were the values back then, and we have different values today. And my answer to that is always, “Whose values back then are you talking about?” I think at the root of it is: White supremacy is losing. Whiteness is losing. And I think that’s very difficult for people to accept right now.
Jamila Paksima: And Camille Bennett? She’s not backing down either. She continues to lead the push to relocate the Confederate monument.
Camille Bennett: We’re asking for our city and county to move the Confederate monument from the front of our local courthouse to this section of the cemetery, the soldiers rest section of the cemetery.
Geraldine Moriba: There are Confederate flags, small Confederate flags in front of many of the tombstones. There’s a marker in the cemetery. It says: “Soldiers Rest, 1862. Many unknown Confederates and a few unknown Union soldiers rest here. After the war, it was reserved for Confederate veterans and their families. In 1977, the historic plot was deeded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to ensure its preservation and perpetual care.” Now, it seems pretty logical that a Confederate monument could and should be located in a Confederate cemetery.
Camille Bennett: It’s, it’s extremely logical. Yes.
Geraldine Moriba: Why is there so much resistance?
Camille Bennett: The resistance goes back to the “Lost Cause” narrative, the Old South, Gone with the Wind. All of these things are, are symbols of, of pride and hope for white Southerners. It looks like little, small, little marble or concrete markers. Some are a little more elaborate, um, like your standard headstones and some look very old, very small, uh, very simple.
Geraldine Moriba: There are tombstones all around us. And the names on these tombstones are really quite hard to read because they’re, they’re worn and weathered. This one looks like John Codron, can you read any? Or how about that one?
Camille Bennett: Uh, Elias Stancy? It looks like.
Geraldine Moriba: Elias Stancy. Let’s look at a couple of them. Oh, here’s one that’s a little easier to read: James M. Moffat. Are there any others you can read?
Geraldine Moriba: In November 2020, the city of Florence poured a cement base at the local Confederate cemetery, but the county officials have not agreed to relocate the Confederate monument. The finger pointing continues: The mayor blames the county commissioners, the county commissioners blame the sheriff, and Bennett continues to resist.
Camille Bennett: When you break down the history, you state the facts and you, uh, dismantle that, that false narrative, it leaves white people feeling bare, feeling defensive, uh, feeling fragile. Now it doesn’t matter if you bring in scholars from wherever you want to bring them from and explain that the Civil War was ultimately about slavery. Still, they’ve been taught, it’s, it’s, it’s deeply embedded into culture.
Geraldine Moriba: This corner of the cemetery is quiet. There’s no main street here. They might just be objecting, not so much to it being here, but to the possibility that they lose visibility of that narrative.
Camille Bennett: Absolutely. Um, they, they lose visibility, and they’re kind of seeing whiteness crumble and, and false narratives crumble and, and things that have never been challenged before. Not here. How dare you step out of your place and present historical facts and ask for dignity?
Geraldine Moriba: These, these markers, these lives lost, what do they represent to you?
Camille Bennett: On one side, I’ve, I’ve never had any anger or hatred or anything like that towards the Confederate soldiers themselves, understanding that there is a huge socioeconomic divide, and some of these people were actually, uh, didn’t have much of a choice and had to fight, and there was poverty and they didn’t own slaves, and all this, all this thing. Now, the celebration of the Confederacy itself and the war in the minds that came up with the idea that there needed to be a war, uh, to keep Black people enslaved? That’s a completely different, uh, situation for me.
Geraldine Moriba: Right before Thanksgiving in 2020, in a powerful flex, Bennett travelled to Montgomery to meet one on one with John Merrill, Alabama’s secretary of state.
Camille Bennett: He spoke about how he had friends in the Shoals area that told them about our awful behavior and the way we treat people and this kind of thing, trying to make this, like, big story. And I said, “Well, were you thorough in your investigations?” Our goal is really to educate and to bring awareness. When you speak this way, when you incite racial terror, there is an organized effort to respond, and we will do our best to make sure that the rest of the nation hears our shout.
Geraldine Moriba: In April 2021, Bennett and Project Say Something issued a press release calling for Merrill’s resignation due to his, quote, “documented history of anti-Black racism,” end quote.
Camille Bennett: I don’t think that my, our story is so unique. Black people are marginalized all over our country. So, I think the rest of the nation knows that we, we definitely struggle with white supremacy, and that’s deeply embedded in our framework. But I also want people to know that there is resistance, that we are here, and we are fighting. That there are progressive Black women and men that are not backing down, and we need support. What we need most is to be able to liberate ourselves.
Geraldine Moriba: Since we started our reporting, Bennett’s mission to liberate her community has become more difficult. In February 2020, Bill SB152 was enacted in Lauderdale County, increasing obstacles and financial hurdles to gathering for peaceful civil rights demonstrations. It regulates all forms of speech with regard to “time, place and manner of expression.” Protestors will need to get permits in advance, pay a fee, and “cover the actual cost of the use of law enforcement officers” and the “cost of clean-up,” too.
Camille Bennett: We will be, um, litigating. Duke University, ACLU and the Lawyers Guild are going to litigate this one.
Geraldine Moriba: By April, during the 2021 legislative session, Republican lawmakers in 34 states introduced 81 anti-protest bills. That’s more than twice as many proposals than any other year.
Camille Bennett: A lot of this is turned into voter education, right? So, you’re trying to take down a monument, and then you have politicians that practice white nationalism and white supremacy standing in your way and creating bills or laws or, or, or making racist statements or whatever. And that becomes a time you can educate the community on the leaders that they’ve elected and why they are a problem, and we’ve seen that work.
Geraldine Moriba: Research indicates a remarkable 73% of women have experienced some form of cyber violence or online harassment. It happened to Bennett, and now her mother has also become a victim of this cowardly anonymous bullying.
Camille Bennett: My mother decided she wanted to create an online magazine, and it really celebrates Black culture, diversity. She went into her site and saw that it had been taken over. There are racist articles posted. Some conspiracy with Biden and articles about George Floyd, criminalizing him and talking about his past, just disgusting articles. And, and they’re, they keep updating them every day. My mother can no longer go into her website. It’s her joy, and it’s gone, for now. I don’t know, I don’t know if she’ll ever recover it. So, I wept, um, because harm had been caused to my mother.
Geraldine Moriba: Your mother is being terrorized by hacking.
Camille Bennett: Yes. They made it look like Brian Murphy was the author of these awful articles. So, that’s how we know, “Hey, this is not just some random freak thing. These are the same local white nationalists that have been harassing us.”
Geraldine Moriba: What are you going to do about it?
Camille Bennett: We filed a police report today, and my mom is also going to file a report with the FBI.
Geraldine Moriba: Do you feel deterred?
Camille Bennett: I don’t feel deterred in any way. If anything, um, it’s, it’s fuel for all of the things that, that we need to do and all of the work that needs to be done in, in Alabama.
Jamila Paksima: In Georgia, the Dekalb County commissioners have approved a John Lewis monument in place of a Confederate monument removed in June of 2020. And in May of 2021 Stone Mountain Memorial Association announced changes coming to the park. The Confederate flags at the park will be relocated to a place of less prominence. Stone Mountain Park will also begin to contextualize some Black history. But the largest Confederate monument in America will remain intact.
Bill Stephens: I think in a couple respects, we can get at some Black history issues. One is in telling the whole story of the park. We have to tell the story that this place means heritage to some people and to other people it means hate. Because this is the world’s biggest Confederate memorial, we’re not going to be able to tell a story that’s going to please both sides, but you can tell the truth.
Jamila Paksima: The Coca-Cola logo was removed from the Stone Mountain website around May of 2021. However, Bill Stephens, the current president of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, says: “Coca-Cola continues to be a sponsor, although the logo was taken off the website.” Several organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have stated that these changes at Stone Mountain Park are not enough.
Geraldine Moriba: And the former Confederate State of Virginia struck down their 1901 and 1904 laws, which made it illegal to move or change war memorials. In 2020, Virginia relocated more Confederate monuments than any other state in the nation. Change is happening.
Jamila Paksima: And so, the movement to remove Confederate iconography, symbols and monuments from government and public property will be sustained. To learn what you can do in your community or to see a full list of public symbols of confederacy across the nation, visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Whose Heritage? report.
Geraldine Moriba: One of the stories coming in season three is “Fostering Hate.” We’ll be examining the obstruction of LGBTQ rights for children and families in the foster care system.
Samantha Bannon: So, I, I walked into the building, signed in and said, “I think I should tell you that we are a two-mom family.” At that point the temperature in the room changed. One of the workers said that they did not do placements with same-sex couples. I said to her, “Well, as you know, Bethany Christian Services is the only, um, agency in the area that’s doing the unaccompanied minor placements.” At which point she said to me, “Oh, you know, we’re not going to be doing that, these children have already been through enough.”
Geraldine Moriba: These are complicated stories about people who hold onto false histories and terroristic ideologies – and draw boundaries that are skin deep.
Jamila Paksima: If you or anyone you know has experienced a hate incident or crime, please contact the appropriate local authorities or elected official. You can also document what happened at splcenter.org/reporthate.
Geraldine Moriba: This is Sounds Like Hate, an independent audio documentary brought to you by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Jamila Paksima: Our podcast is brought to you by a team of journalists.
Geraldine Moriba: Including producer Jordan Gass-Poore’ and editor Valerie Keller.
Jamila Paksima: Our computer scientist is Will Crichton.
Geraldine Moriba: Our music is composed by Warner Meadows.
Jamila Paksima: Sounds Like Hate is produced by Until 20 Productions. I’m Jamila Paksima.
Geraldine Moriba: And I’m Geraldine Moriba. Remember to subscribe to receive new episodes as soon as they’re released. Give us a rating and review, too. It really helps. Thanks for listening.