Intersections – I Am the Mountain
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
“I went by the Druid stone that broods in the garden white and lone.” – Thomas Hardy
“Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
I saw the film “Birth of a Nation” my freshman year of college. I was in California at the time, and the movie from 1915 showed a terrible version of the South I’d never experienced. When my professor said that the movie caused the rebirth of the Klan in Stone Mountain, Georgia, my classmates turned and looked at me.
“Aren’t you from Stone Mountain, Georgia?” someone asked. They were thinking, You sad black girl from the South. You dummy. Why would you live with all those racist white people in the South? You poor thing.
I am from Stone Mountain. Not the Stone Mountain of 1915. Not the Stone Mountain of the news. It was a great place to grow up. It is still a great place today.
I grew up on Martin Road. My childhood home is still there. I’ve driven by to see how the neighborhood has changed. The lawn is as green and lush as I remember. I’ve probably traced every blade of grass in that yard. I imagine that the trees and the leaves remember me.
I went to Mainstreet Elementary. The school has another name now, but I can’t remember what it is. Then I attended Miller Grove Junior High and Redan High School.
Redan was the architectural twin of nearby Stone Mountain High School. We took pleasure going into the other school to seek out the parallel versions of ourselves. We wanted to know if our locker combinations worked in the bizarro version of our school. They didn’t.
When I attended Redan, it was a school with no windows. We were told it was tornado proof. If the lights went out, we’d be in complete darkness. It’s Georgia for goodness sakes. The lights always go out. When you go to a school with no windows and the lights go out, you get to go home. They’ve been adding on to the school. There are a few windows now.
If you grew up in Stone Mountain, you learned to love the sound of the train like distant thunder. A reminder of travel and movement. We can’t stay the same. You can hear it from any part of town.
If you grew up in Stone Mountain, you knew 20 different ways to get from one side of Memorial Drive to another. You remember when the Krispy Kreme doughnut sign only came on once a week.
If you grew up in Stone Mountain, you went to Stone Mountain Park. Religiously. Didn’t matter if you were black or white, Mexican or Korean. You didn’t worry about the carving. You could probably name at least one of the faces of the mountain. Not with disdain. Not with reverence.
I don’t spare a thought on the Klan or whatever they go by these days. I’m not one to worry about the Confederate flag, but Stone Mountain is mine. I will protect it.
By my calculations, I’ve seen the Laser Show 300 times. As a kid, my family took every out of town guest to the park. We went on the Fourth of July. We went on nights when it thundered and rained. The Laser Show was lights, and the Laser Show was music. I know all the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Elvis’ version. I know the words to “Georgia on My Mind” as sung by Willie Nelson and Ray Charles.
I hiked the nature trails before they were mapped and marked. I climbed to the top of Stone Mountain before there were fences and handrails to guide our journey.
People think Stone Mountain is a town of racism and hatred, but it’s not. You might have heard about the nice people who have come out of Stone Mountain. People who go to work and school and do their best each day. A United States Poet Laureate. Entertainers. Athletes. Moms, like me, who drag their kids to the top of the mountain so we can feel both insignificant and triumphant at the same time.
I have friends who won’t go to Stone Mountain until the carving is gone, just because some men still have the mentality of 1915.
I have friends who climb to the top of Stone Mountain regularly. They make pilgrimages to the top for exercise and peace.
When the media portrays Stone Mountain as a place of animosity, I think of Memorial Drive, green grass, and a really normal and boring childhood. There will always be a large mountain of granite in the distance. Maybe they shouldn’t have put a carving on it. But they did. Maybe I should worry about it more. But I won’t. It is a part of who I am.
I hear a voice saying, “Aren’t you from Stone Mountain, Georgia?” It is followed by a new voice saying, “Aren’t you lucky? Aren’t you proud?”
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.