Georgia Tech Professor Unearths the Racist Past of an Atlanta Castle

Georgia Tech Professor Unearths the Racist Past of an Atlanta Castle

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Rhodes Hall on Peachtree Street is an icon of the Atlanta skyline, and one of the city’s most popular wedding venues. But the fairy-tale castle has a secret: a past steeped in neo-Confederate thought, where leaders of the Klan are revered like saints in its stained glass windows.

Professor Richard Utz, Chair and Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology today published the findings of his research into the dark past of Atlanta’s Rhodes Hall.  Professor Utz wrote in The Public Medievalist:

“Do couples really know what kind of history they are entering when they get married at Rhodes Hall? While the hall may overtly project an image of fairy-tale medievalism, when you scratch the surface, you find something altogether darker and more complicated.”

Utz explains how the Hall was built in 1905, set against the backdrop of race riots in which about forty African Americans and two white people were killed. Its stones were quarried from Stone Mountain, which saw the refounding of the Klan and, to this day, sports a controversial relief of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. And at the center of the home is a panorama of stained glass that celebrates the “lost cause”. It shows an idyllic vision of the antebellum South with slaves picking cotton, as well as heroic portraits of men, like Nathan Bedford Forrest and John B. Gordon, who would go on to head the Ku Klux Klan.

But Professor Utz does not think Rhodes Hall should be torn down, or its windows removed. But there does need to be a change, especially in light of the racial divisions in our country today. As Utz states:

“Washington National Cathedral had a similar problem back in 2015, since some of their windows had similar heroic images of confederates. They replaced the battle flags in their windows, but also took it as a teaching moment. So, they had a year of public presentations and discussions about race and history. Rhodes Hall should do the same.”

Rhodes Hall should remain a place where Atlanta couples can enjoy fulfilling their fantasy of a fairy-tale wedding. But they should be able to do so without such starkly racist images haunting the photos their big day.

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Richard Utz is Chair and Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He succeeded Leslie J. Workman and Tom Shippey as the third President of the International Society for the Study of Medievalism, and currently serves as editor of Medievally Speaking and The Year’s Work in Medievalism. In 2017, he published Medievalism: A Manifesto (ARC Humanities Press), in which he challenges his colleagues to reconnect with the general public that has allowed medievalists to become, since the late nineteenth century, a rather exclusive clan of specialists who communicate mostly with each other.