Call to add OutKast to Stone Mountain sparks discussion on symbolism and race

Big Boi, petition organizer Mack Williams, and local fans share their thoughts on who, if anyone, should replace the Confederate memorial

Recently the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP called for a sandblast removal of Confederate generals Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson on Stone Mountain. Artist Mack Williams had another idea: Don't remove the original carving, just add OutKast.

After creating a design featuring the two dope boys in a Cadillac, Williams, a member of the once popular local comic-music outfit Attractive Eighties Women, set up a petition on MoveOn.org. The petition asked for 15,000 signatures before presenting the idea to the Georgia State House, Senate, and Gov. Nathan Deal. So far more than 12,000 people have signed it.

Williams, a Blackshear, Ga., native now residing in Brooklyn, originally came up with the idea as a joke.

He left a comment on the Facebook page of his professional friend Adult Swim animator C. Martin Croker — whose first major gig was working the laser show at Stone Mountain Park — suggesting that OutKast appear on the mountain. It took Williams only an hour to draft the design that appeared online and ultimately went viral.

"I don't think there was any way that I could foresee it taking off the way it did," he says. "Before I did the petition, I didn't give it much thought at all. I just thought my friends would think it was funny."

The prospect of the rappers appearing on the historic landmark reached one half of the duo right away.

While attending his grandmother's 90th birthday party in Blackshear, Williams took a quick pause in the festivities. "Big Boi called me on my phone. We have a mutual acquaintance whom I'm working on a project with," Williams says. While they only talked for "seconds," Williams said Big Boi expressed his appreciation for the idea.

There's been no word from André 3000, but Big Boi retweeted a post about the artwork.

On a more serious note, Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond has called for Deal to consider giving the entire memorial a makeover.

Although he didn't elaborate on his thoughts about the idea, Big Boi gave CL his own suggestion for who should go up on the mountain. "They've got to put MLK on there first before they put anybody on there. They can't have the 'Kast riding in no Cadillac. We ain't sponsored by Cadillac [laughs]."

Other OutKast supporters have expressed similar views.

Atlanta resident and music researcher for Mediabase Kila Denton, a longtime fan of the duo, had other ideas for the carving. "Maybe adding civil rights icons Martin Luther King, Joseph E. Lowery, and Andrew Young," she says.

Denton also spoke of the presence of Native Americans, particularly the Cherokee who were early inhabitants of the state of Georgia. "Culturally, wouldn't it make sense to have indigenous people?" she asks.

Presently, there are no federally recognized Native American Indian tribes in Georgia.

The display of Civil War and Confederate memorabilia has always been a touchy topic. Last month's tragic shooting of nine members of a bible study group in South Carolina by white supremacist Dylann Roof ultimately led to the removal of the Confederate flag at the state's capitol and has prompted dialogue on whether the symbols should be displayed on public property.

Williams is now experiencing the debate firsthand. A lot of people privately let Williams know the South's got something to say — good or bad.

"I've gotten a lot of emails — most people don't get the joke and think I'm a moron or I'm destroying history," he says.

Despite some detractors and trolls on social media and various sites covering the topic, Williams says, "On Facebook and Twitter, the mentions directed specifically at me have been 99 percent positive."

On the petition and in discussion he makes it clear he's not interested in revisionist history.

"By no means do we wish to erase or destroy the current carving, which, regardless of its context, is an impressive and historic work of art," the petition's statement reads. "We simply wish to add new carvings, of Atlanta hip-hop duo OutKast to the mountainside. There's plenty of room."

He adds, "I don't think anything should be removed; I don't think that's how we should move forward as a culture."

The artist never intended to become a spokesperson on race relations. "There were people who feel like they're under attack right now. I'm no expert; they need to open up a book and realize they're maybe on the wrong side of history," he says.

Williams, who is white, has also been fortunate enough to avoid the potential dangers of racial controversy. He doesn't discuss the issue in public and has not received hateful dissent online.

"No one has sent me death threats or threats of violence," he says. "... I was afraid I would get caught in a debate I couldn't get out of."

Still, he is unafraid to speak out on views that may not resonate among some members of his hometown. "The heat is on racism right now, which is good," Williams says. "Until the guy in Blackshear, Ga., feels embarrassed or afraid to fly the Confederate flag on his pickup truck, we have a long way to go."

Williams knew that adding Atlanta's famed rap duo to the mountain would be unlikely. He didn't create an execution plan or even consider next steps, but he appears pleased with what is already happening.

"I'll be more engaged and more involved, be more of a participant of what's next for the South and the United States," he says. "If André and Big Boi were interested in doing something with [the artwork], I would love to be involved."

With additional reporting by Gavin Godfrey.