I don’t publish much editorial opinion because I view the Cobb County Courier’s primary role as news and information. But the new park should be given the inclusive and non-divisive name Mableton Discovery Park.
I’ve been involved in historic preservation efforts for over 40 years. I was on the original board of the River Line Historic Area after it incorporated, and I’m currently on the board of a historic cemetery foundation which I helped form fifteen years ago. For years I conducted a tour of that cemetery during BATL, an event held on the date of the Battle of Atlanta. Often when the Civil War is involved in a preservation effort it unleashes a torrent of conflicting narratives about the causes and morality of that war.
But one thing is indisputable in any reasonable historical and moral sense. Joseph Johnston fought to preserve slavery, and it’s inappropriate to name a park after him. The political wrangling leading up to the war was about the expansion of slavery into the western territories. Lincoln’s victory led to the secession of the southern states because he was seen as anti-slavery. The original secession document from South Carolina barely mentioned anything beyond the right of white southerners to hold blacks in involuntary servitude.
It’s perfectly fine to preserve the shoupades and to highlight them as a historical artifact. The Civil War was a major part of history, whose effects are still being felt. We need to learn about it, and there are so few physical things left from that war that we need to preserve them. But it also has to be acknowledged that the shoupades were built involuntarily by enslaved people in the service of continuing their own slavery.
Putting someone’s name on a park honors the memory of that person. Putting the name of a general who fought to preserve slavery on a major, important park in the county district with the highest percentage African-American population would be not only inappropriate but insulting.
And if the county isn’t open to this moral argument, we need to think long and hard about the pragmatic political implications of essentially building another monument to a Confederate general in 2018. Build the park, preserve the shoupades, but name the park Mableton Discovery Park.