A weekend in Atlanta

I spent the long weekend in Atlanta. I hadn’t planned to do a lot of Memorial-Day-specific activities; somehow it just turned out that way. First, we went to the Atlanta History Center. We arrived late in the day, so we only had time for one exhibit. We chose the Civil War section. The section opens with a little computer kiosk display explaining the reasons for going to war. The display explained that from a northern perspective, the war was all about slavery, but from the Southern perspective, it was about states’ rights. This was juxtaposed with series of maps demonstrating the key conflict in American politics leading up to the war, representing rancorous battle after rancorous battle in Congress about whether each new state to be added to the union was a slave state or a free state. Finally these conflicts reached a boiling point when Lincoln, thought to be sympathetic to abolitionists, was elected President. But the war was about states’ rights. Uh-huh.

Moving on, there was an extensive display of Civil War artifacts: guns, cannons, uniforms, letters sent by soldiers, battle maps, and a fascinating year-by-year discussion of Union and Confederate strategy: what the plans were for each year, and how well each side succeeded. There were also examples of the state-by-state differences in uniforms. South Carolinians may have been wearing Confederate Gray, but they had different buttons and belt buckles from North Carolinians. Because this war was about states’ rights. Yep.

In fact, the war was so clearly about states’ rights that the Atlanta History Center didn’t see fit to include a single shred of documentation about the slave experience during the Civil War. Wow!

The next day we went to the Cyclorama, the “world’s largest painting,” depicting the Battle of Atlanta. This massive painting, 360 feet long and 40 feet tall, displays thousands of Confederate and Union soldiers engaging in a battle of colossal scale. There is exactly one black person in the painting, about 6 inches high, carefully pointed out by our black tour guide. The painting is displayed in a circular room, and viewed by sitting in a rotating set of bleachers while the battle scene gradually unfolds before you. The recorded narration accompanying the painting repeatedly describes the valiant efforts of the thousands of soldiers fighting a vicious battle. For states’ rights.

Next we visited the Carlos Museum. Woohoo! Not a Civil War General in sight. And lots of Africans! Well, Egyptians, anyway.

Finally, it was off to Stone Mountain Park. After all, we’d seen the world’s largest painting, so why not witness the world’s largest relief carving? Carved into over three acres of the side of the massive granite mountain, the figures of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis are a sight to behold. Gee, states’ rights sure inspire some monumental works of art. Funny that nowhere in the park does it mention that the whole thing was financed by the Ku Klux Klan.

At the bottom of the mountain was an authentic representation of an 1870s southern village, complete with gift shops, genuine southern folk, and a puppet show for kids. And since it was the “1870s,” there was no need to confront that pesky slavery issue. Visitors to the park can take a train around the mountain, ride a tram to the top, or tool around Stone Mountain Lake on the 150-foot steamboat Scarlett O’Hara. If we had stayed until the evening, we could have seen a laser show projected onto the representations of the southern heroes on the side of the mountain. I kid you not.

Despite the South’s passion for states’ rights, the whole place was littered with American flags. There were flags everywhere you looked. There was even a U.S. Navy recruiting station (naturally, it had its own 3-D virtual reality ride for the kids).

During the ride home to North Carolina, I was at least glad for one thing. At least the North won.

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