Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

CHAPTER EIGHT A: Noon on Stone Mountain

Special Collections and Archives

CHAPTER EIGHT A: Noon on Stone Mountain

You are here

Special Collections and Archives

CHAPTER EIGHT A: Noon on Stone Mountain

You are here


Return to the Charles A. Thomas Papers (KSU May 4 Collection)


Blood of Isaac
an e-book by Charles A. Thomas



CHAPTER EIGHT:  Noon on Stone Mountain.






          Four dead in Ohio.   Murder at high noon.   Four American citizens killed for exercising Constitutional privilege.   The Justice Department sprang into action:









                        The foregoing incident indicate the possible existence of one or more conspiracies to drive the ROTC from



college campuses…  We would like as much information as possible concerning the activities of all the leaders involved in this activity, including the speeches they have given and what they said urging that the ROTC program be driven from the campus; and the contents of any printed or written matter which they have authored and distributed urging the same end.



We are especially interested in ascertaining whether these activities have been conducted by members of the SDS or any other militant type new left organization.   In this regard, we would appreciate your ascertaining whether the activities were conducted solely by local groups on their 636own initiative, or whether any of the groups were acting under instructions and advice from national headquarters of SDS or other outside influences.[636]









            For the author of this memo to even intimate that SDS might have been behind the ROTC fire must mean that he hadn’t read any of the FBI’s COINTELPRO reports or he was dissimulating.    The intimation that the only matter worthy of the Justice Department’s attention that had happened at Kent State was the arson – which inheres in the document’s existence – is staggering in its effrontery and foolish in whatever hopes John Mitchell may have had for it.   The morning edition of the New York Times’ front page carried a three-column photograph – destined to win the Pulitzer Prize –  of an anguished girl screaming over Jeff Miller’s bloody corpse.   The rest of the world’s newspapers ran it, or pictures of the four dead students, or – like the London Times – of the National Guard firing the volley, on the front page.   Commentators on the Continent speculated that the murders would revive the European student revolt of 1968, but this time on a global scale.[637]



            Nixon underestimated the public outrage.   Perhaps he felt he could rely on the short attention span of the American people.   And he was the first Republican president to be relatively indifferent to the welfare of the markets, except for oil and defense companies.    So he also underestimated the effect that Wall Street’s shock out of Ohio was going to have on his policies.   A lot of Republican politicians didn’t, since they were already looking to the off-year congressional elections in the fall.   Any downturn in the economy would hurt the party of the current administration.    And the Street was on the verge of panic.   “It isn’t 1970 anymore,” the Journal warned, “It’s 1928 and seven eighths.”[638]



            Nixon would be forced to deal with the financial crisis before month’s end.    And an army of demonstrators would direct his attention to Kent State in four days.   But on May 5th, his attention was fixed on the trip to Atlanta.   He decided that the bloody denouement of his anti-student campaign meant that he himself could not go.   Perhaps he realized it would make everything look too obvious.   And his staff concurred.   “Cancelled trip plans for the rest of the week & and will go to CD [Camp David].   Everyone relieved he’s not going to Atlanta.”[639]   That included White House archbishop Billy Graham: “felt shld cancel Stone Mtn   he had a Black Panther threat.”[640]   Agnew would go in the president’s stead – but under orders to avoid saying anything that would link the Atlanta appearance to the campus revolt.   “Agnew say nothing at all re student unrest in Atlanta   do speech of reconciliation”.   In fact, he was to do nothing less than reaffirm the Southern Strategy in the wake of the Haynesworth-Carswell debacle and the national trauma since the Cambodian incursion:






                        Agnew has to go to Atlanta



                        NE is through, NW is in trouble, W ok



                        but other hope long haul is the South



                        sell one-nation strategy



                        welcome So. back into country -—









            Before he sent Agnew on this mission, Nixon briefed the man who was really behind it.   As usual during this period, the president burned up the telephone lines to Haldeman and Kissinger.   But he also called Harry Dent twice before dinner on May 5th.   And he called him back at 9:38 that night, and kept calling him back until 4:09 a.m.   Dent’s hold over Nixon, like much of the corrupt connective tissue of the administration, went back to the 1968 national convention – which had almost ended for Nixon as soon as it began.   The nomination he had thought sown up for him seemed to vanish in a surprise emotional stampede by the southern delegates to Ronald Reagan.   Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina intervened at the last minute to save it for Nixon.   But in return he extorted a solemn pledge from Nixon: “If I’m president of the United States, I’ll find a way to ease up on the federal pressures forcing school desegregation – or any other kind of desegregation.”   Nixon would orchestrate “the end of the Second Reconstruction – and a turning away of this nation from the problems and challenges of racial injustice.”[641]   Thurmond’s aide Harry Dent was in the hotel room when the deal was cut.



            After the inauguration, Dent moved into the White House, according to one moderate Southerner senator, as the agent “of the die-hard segregationists, the white-sheet boys.”[642]   Dent was “to keep a wide-open Southern eye”[643] on Nixon, lest he turn out to be “anti-South and liberal like LBJ”.[644]   “Dent and Chotiner were then the two top political aides in the White House,”[645] assigned along with newcomer Charles Colson to mastermind unethical when not illegal ways to undermine Nixon enemies.[646]



            Naturally Dent’s special area of competence was “Dixification”.[647]   After the Haynesworth nomination had been defeated, Nixon told him, “Harry, I want you to go out this time and find a good federal judge further south and further to the right.”[648]   Dent came up with Harold Carswell, a choice which led to an even greater debacle.   Dent tried to paint this as a victory, because it made Nixon even more of a hero in the South.   And Nixon counted on the South as the wellspring of support for his program, the essence of which was repression.






The repressive use of force is, like racism, interwoven into the history of the Southern Rim.   More than any other region, this area has been marked by violence, usually sanctioned violence, carving out its territory by force and coercion, building its economy on compulsion and servitude.[649]









When Nixon, reeling from the shocks of Kent State, Augusta, and Jackson State, threatened to veer in the direction of moderation, Dent sent him the major policy memo that convinced the president to stop “heading left”.[650]   In it, he reminded Nixon that he “doesn’t believe in integration”[651] and warned that if he flagged in his commitment to Thurmond to end it as a federal goal, Alabama Governor George Wallace – in 1972 as in 1968 threatening Nixon’s right flank as a third-party candidate – could charge him with destroying public education in the South.[652]



            And so the president stayed on the phone with Harry Dent through the night of May 5th through 6th until just before dawn.   After dinner the following night, they talked from 9:05 to 10:45 p.m.[653]    With everything that had happened since April 30th, Nixon was focused on the Atlanta pilgrimage, his appeal to what apparently seemed to him the last stronghold of real Americans.  









            The choice of Atlanta for the ritual incantation was obvious: it was the powerhouse of the New South, the putative capital of  Nixon’s recreated United States.   But what significance did Stone Mountain have? other than as a geological curiosity and a second-echelon tourist attraction?



            Geologists cannot explain the origin of this naked height of  bare rock, the largest exposed mass of granite in the world, thirty miles from the nearest mountain – seemingly lodged in, rather than rising out of, the Georgia Piedmont, as if a Doomsday asteroid had struck Earth here but not yet begun to extinguish all life.   The earliest explorers found an enclosure of “huge boulders” atop it, “somewhat reminiscent of Druid places of worship in Britain”,[654] encircling the peak.   The native Americans they encountered here had no idea of who had managed to move the boulders, let alone arrange them so precisely.   Archaeologists have speculated that since the enclosure had only one entrance, accessible only to a single person at a time, on hand and knee, it may have been “symbolic of the womb” [655]-- i.e., the shrine of a fertility religion.   Lurid speculation by pamphleteers about human sacrifice on the site remain unverified.



            Throughout the 19th century Stone Mountain remained a scenic outlook attraction for the upper class.   Its rendevous with history awaited the first total war of the 20th century and the tide of reaction and repression that inevitably accompanied it.   On August 16, 1915, twenty-five armed men broke Jewish factory manager Leo Frank out of Atlanta prison.   They called themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan, after the fourteen-year-old Gentile girl Frank was accused of murdering.   They drove Frank to Phagan’s home town of Marietta and lynched him.   The local authorities made a spectacular effort not to solve the crime.



Exactly a month later, these same man celebrated the act by climbing up onto Stone Mountain and burning a cross that was visible all across the greater Atlanta area.   Widespread popular approval of this display led them to apply for a charter from the state, which they received.   On Thanksgiving, anticipating the triumphal opening in Atlanta of D.W. Griffith’s racist cinematic epic The Birth of a Nation, they burned another cross on Stone Mountain.   This time they were celebrating their use of the charter to found the modern Ku Klux Klan.   Regular cross burnings thereafter transformed the site from an innocuous tourist attraction into a shrine for bigotry.   As late as V-J Day in 1945, the Klansmen poured fuel oil mixed with sand into niches in the mountain’s face to form a cross 300 feet long, and burned it “just to let the niggers know that the war is over and the Klan is back on the march.”[656]



            In case the cross burnings were too subtle to communicate the Mountain’s new significance, the Daughters of the Confederacy, after ceaseless agitating, finally started the project of their dreams: turning the stone flank of the mountain into a huge statuary carving of the leaders of their lost nation.   Work was already underway in 1922 when the Klan newspaper Tolerance ingenuously revealed that the KKK was a major source of funds for the project.   Their participation was a mixed blessing.    When the Klan found out that summer that the mega-sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, was Catholic, they stopped paying him.   Borglum responded by climbing up the height at night with an assistant and blowing up the carving he had completed thus far.[657]   But nothing so basic to the South’s megalomania could be deterred forever, and by May 1970, the gargantuan bas-relief was finished and ready to be consecrated: heroic equestrian figures of Generals Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.   Life magazine commented with a satiric cartoon, depicting the statuary as it would look with Nixon, Agnew, and Mitchell as the Confederate chevaliers.[658]



            The whole problem was that it was just that obvious.   That was why Nixon couldn’t go himself.   Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, whose magic wand for race relations was the axe handle, announced his terrible disappointment that the president would not be appearing at Stone Mountain as promised.   He cabled Nixon begging him to reconsider; a “hundred thousand” loyal sons and daughters of the Confederacy planned to be there to applaud their president.[659]    The next day Georgia Secretary of State added note of his chagrin, styling Agnew a mere “underling”.   Maddox qualified those remarks by saying that Nixon should have come but that Agnew was “acceptable to the people”.[660]



            On the night of May 8th-9th, as an army of protestors streamed into Washington for the giant anti-war rally the next morning , the President – who had already been told that all four of the students killed at Kent State had been unarmed, and two of them bystanders – made over fifty phone calls between 9:22 and 4:22 a.m., to every source of support he could think of, from Billy Graham to Reader’s Digest editor Hobart Lewis (whose magazine would publish Nixon’s version of Kent State a year later).   One of the recipients, William Safire, recorded the content of the call he got (and the only call whose content has ever been divulged):






                        That’s a good speech Agnew is giving down there.   I wrote it myself.   [Chuckle]  You helped…



            In this speech I was trying to show how we are one people.   I’m the goddamdest desegregationist there is, but it has to be done the right way.  We mustn’t ever give any indication care about the South, about their feelings.   We’ve got to care.









In the midst of this typically rambling verbiage, Safire “had the impression he was walking around a point that was worrying him.”   Finally Nixon added, “On the Agnew speech tomorrow, I hope to hell he doesn’t hit the students.”   Safire reassured him about that.   Nixon said “Thank God” and signed off for the night (at least as far as Safire was concerned). [661]



            The President’s solicitude for the feelings of Southerners missed the point that their feelings about the visit were not unmixed.   Emory University historian Bell Wiley, a leading authority on the Confederacy’s greatest soldier, stated that Agnew’s appearance was “an affront to Gen. Robert E. Lee.”[662]   On the other hand, James Venable, Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, found Agnew more congenial than Nixon: “The Vice President is even better suited for this occasion than the president.   I share his views on college students and professors running amok and all that communistic, socialistic stuff.”[663]   Agnew was flown in under conditions appropriate for a banana republic dictator, not to Atlanta Airport, but to Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, whence he was “whisked by helicopter” to Stone Mountain.   The air base was crawling with police and soldiers; only a “handful of newsmen” were allowed on the scene – no other civilians – and the reporters were not allowed closer than one hundred feet.[664]



            At Stone Mountain, “[seldom] interrupted by applause”, he merely pulled the prepared text out of his jacket pocket and read from it.   Of the predicted crowd of 100,000, barely ten thousand showed up.   Among those failing to honor their promises to appear were the Rev. Billy Graham and Senator Richard Russell.   Perhaps the sharpest chagrin was felt by fried chicken entrepreneur Harry Hearn, who was stuck with six thousand cold, unsold dinners.   Governor Maddox sampled one with the typically testy observation that it was appropriate fare, since “Nixon chickened out”.[665]   The speech was as unexciting as the cold chicken.   “The South that will make its greatest contribution to the American Dream is the New South,” Agnew read, “just as the South cannot afford to discriminate against any of its people, the rest of the nation cannot afford to discriminate against the South.”[666]   But content was not important.   The President’s spokesman had come to the birthplace and citadel of the modern Klan and stood beneath the lowering monument to the South’s inveterate determination to turn back the clock, to reaffirm his chief’s pledge to Strom Thurmond two years before.   It was a ritual, and like the ritual in Ohio five days before, it would be sealed in blood – within twenty-four hours.





















[636]    Memorandum, J. Walter Yeagley to Director J. Edgar Hoover, “Attacks Against ROTC Facilities on University Campuses – May 1-2, 1970”.   KSU Archives/US Justice Department series; also in personal papers of author.

[637]    George Melloan, “US Actions in  Asia Arouse Europe’s Left to Organize Protest,”Wall Street Journal,   May 6, 1970, p. 1.

[638]    “Memories of 1929”, (editorial) Wall Street Journal, May 6, 1970.

[639]     Haldeman (J), May 5, 1970, p. 37. 

[640]    Haldeman (N), May 5, 1970.

[641]    Reg Murphy and Hal Gulliver, The Southern Strategy, (New York; Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971), pp. 2 and 3.   EMPHASIS IN ORIGINAL.

[642]    James Boyd, “I gave Thurmond 100% loyalty and now I give Mr. Nixon 100% loyalty”, New York Times magazine, February 1, 1970, pp. 12 and 13, and 46-48; 63.

[643]    Evans and Novak, Nixon in the White House, p. 145.

[644]    Herbert Parmet, Richard Nixon and His America, (Boston; Little, Brown & Company, 1990), p. 510.

[645]    Magruder, An American Life,  p. 122.

[646]    E.g., memo, Charles Colson to Harry Dent, in Bruce Oudes(ed.), From the President, p. 139.

[647]    Cummings, Dixification of America  (see Chapter 1, Page 1)

[648]    Tom Wicker, One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream.  (New York; Random House, 1991), p. 497.

[649]    Sale, Power Shift, p. 171.

[650]    Nixon, Memoirs,  p. 442.

[651]    Haldeman (P), pp. 183-184.

[652]    Stephen Ambrose, Nixon: Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.  (New York; Simon and Schuster, 1994), p. 365.

[653]    NPM, White House telephone logs, May 5-6, 1970.

[654]    Elizabeth Austin Ford, Stone Mountain.  (Decatur, Georgia; Wommack Quality Printing Co., 1959)

[655]    David B. Freeman, Carved in  Stone: The History of Stone Mountain.  (Macon, Georgia; Mercer University Press, 1997), p. 8.

[656]    Wyn Craig Wade, The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America, (New York; Simon and Schuster, 1987), pp. 144-146 (1915) and p. 277 (1945).

[657]    William Lutholtz, Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana.  (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1991), p. 73.

[658]    “Parting Shots: Will the Southern Strategy Rise Again?” Life magazine, May 22, 1970, p. 78.

[659]    “Reconsider State Visit, Maddox Asks President,” Marietta Daily Journal, May 6, 1970, p. 1.  

[660]    “Agnew Sub Irks Fortson,” Marietta Daily Journal, May 7, 1970, pp. 1 & 2A.

[661]    Safire,  Before the Fall, p. 203.   EMPHASIS ADDED.

[662]    “Agnew To Land at Dobbins Before Speech,” Marietta Daily Journal, May 8, 1970, p. 1.

[663]    Jon Nordheimer, “Agnew Mellow in Talk Hailing Confederate Heroes,” New York Times, May 10, 1970, p. 69.

[664]    “Agnew to Land,” p. 1.

[665]    Don Winter and Peter Scott, “End Sectional Slavery, Agnew Pleads,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 10, 1970, pp. 1 & 21A.

[666]    Nordheimer, p. 69.