This is a picture of Stone Mountain, a hulking mass of rock that looms due east of Atlanta.
It was formed something like 716 skadillion years ago when the Appalachian Mountains were sprouting on America’s face like so much geological acne.
Stone Mountain’s history is pockmarked with incidents that modern historians would refer to as “shameful” or “sinister” or “evil” or even “extremely evil.” Atop its quartz monzonite dome, the Ku Klux Klan was “reborn” in 1915. I’d always heard that the Klan would hold cross burnings up there at night, terrorizing the countless blacks in the greater Atlanta area (and believe me, I tried counting them all).
The mountain’s northern side boasts the largest bas-relief carving in the world. Colloquially known as the “Confederate Rushmore,” it features Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson:
I live in the town of Stone Mountain, GA and recently bought a used vehicle that had a prepaid sticker on it that affords me free entrance to Stone Mountain Park until March of next year.
At the local gym where I train is a relentlessly jovial black dude who’s the size of a Sasquatch. When I told him that I had a pass to Stone Mountain Park and had been hiking up its side, he asked if he could tag along, and I said sure, because I get along better with black people than you do and there’s no way anyone in their right mind could call me a racist.
The Jolly Sasquatch said he’s lived in Stone Mountain for a dozen years but had never visited the park, partially because of the Klan thing and also because he heard they have a theatrical “mini-plantation” reenactment that features actual black kids picking cotton and suchlike. He said he knew that times were tough, but he couldn’t imagine any black person taking that kind of job. Then he issued one of his thunderously jovial belly laughs.
About a hundred yards up the rocky walking trail that gets steeper the higher you climb are a series of flags—an American flag, a Rebel flag, and what I think were old variations of the Georgia state flag. The Jolly Sasquatch told me there was only one flag there he’d salute and that he loves America, but sometimes it disappoints him. I told him I don’t salute any flags.
As we were walking, we were joined by another hiker that to me looked like Uncle Remus from Disney’s Song of the South:
Halfway up the mountain, we all stopped at a way station to catch our breath. Uncle Remus spotted a nearly purple-skinned black woman in what appeared to be some kind of traditional African garb. Just from her facial features, he guessed that she was from South Sudan, and she told him he was right. I was impressed.
As we kept walking he said he’d known ruthless Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and several members of the original Black Panthers. Then he said the Greeks stole everything from Black Egypt before the fucking Arabs overran Egypt and destroyed a great ancient African civilization.
Jolly Sasquatch told him it’s important to learn from history, but it’s also important for everyone to get past it. Uncle Remus said you can’t navigate the present unless you understand the past.
When we reached the mountaintop, Uncle Remus started talking about Jews. A lot. About how they’re actually the “one percent” who control everything. I joked that he needed to keep his voice down, because even at the top of the mountain, the Jews had cameras and were also able to hear him. He then clarified that his beef wasn’t with Jews per se, but with Zionists. He also said he thought Ron Paul was the most honest major politician in America today.
Despite what he said about Das Juden and the Hellenes, he said that we’re all the same human family and that everyone needs to learn to get along. I said that I’m more skeptical and that even if the only two people left on Earth were identical twins, they’d find a way to divide themselves and go to war.
Before he split and started walking down the mountain, he told us his name and that we could Google him: “Mukasa Dada.” Me and Jolly Sasquatch stayed behind to take in some of the windswept panoramic view for a few more minutes before we descended. After I dropped him off at his apartment and before I got home, he called me. He had already Googled the dude and looked at pictures. Yep, that was him. These days he’s known as “Mukasa Dada”—a handle he adopted after meeting Idi Amin, although his “real” name appears to be Willie Ricks. And not only was he deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement, along with Stokely Carmichael, he was the man who popularized the term “Black Power.”
So I have been to the top of the mountain mentioned by name in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And I have spoken with the man credited as the coauthor of the term “Black Power” on a giant rock that used to be ruled by the Klan and has Confederate heroes carved on the side of it.
Next time I go to the park, I’m going to visit the mini-plantation and free all the actors.