Confederate battle flag supporters at Saturday's Stone Mountain rally say the Civil War-era emblem symbolizes their southern heritage — not racism.
Billy Armistead of Covington said he's attending the rally to honor the memory of his relative Lewis A. Armistead, who fought for the Confederate States of America in the Civil War. For him, the flag stands for heritage.
"We're here to support our heritage," he said. "We're not racist. We're doing a peaceful thing."
Armistead said he believes the recent calls for the rebel flag to be taken down threaten his rights as an American citizen and that he is attending the rally to speak out.
"Our purpose for being here today is that our rights are being taken from us. We have all the right in the world to fly this flag," he said. "You can't change print in the history book."
Joel Colston of Cartersville agreed, and said the event is not about racism.
"It's not about hate. People are trying to take our flag away from us and that's not right," he said. "We're trying to do something about it."
Colston's friend Dike Young said the Confederate flag shouldn't be linked to the fatal shooting at a church in Charleston last month. He said the flag doesn't have anything to do with race.
"It's the heritage behind the flag," Young said. "It's heritage and everyone wants to put the hate crime on it ... it's freedom and what the South stands for. Color don't mean nothing."
And Thomas Jewell, an African American organizer from Cartersville, agreed.
"It's a symbol, just like any other symbol," he said. "You can use it for whatever you like, but it's not a racist symbol."
Jimmy Cheek, an organizer from Monticello, said the rally — for which Stone Mountain Park officials have increased security — will be a peaceful event.
"We do rallies, not protests. We just do it peacefully," he said. "We don't want trouble, but we'll back each other up [if there is]."
The rally, which had several hundred participants as of around 11:30 a.m., is planned to run from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., according to the event's Facebook page.
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