Protesters demonstrate on the square after making their way from the Cobb NAACP offices to Marietta Square during a demonstration to commemorate Juneteenth on Friday June 19, 2020, in Marietta. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

Atlanta’s Juneteenth celebrations take on new visibility 

Thousands are blanketing the streets of metro Atlanta on Friday evening to mark the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth and protest racial injustice, police brutality and systematic inequalities that have long harmed people of color. 

The day kicked off with peaceful observances at Centennial Olympic Park, which drew thousands of attendees, and the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed during a suspected DUI arrest by Atlanta police a week ago. 

The commemorations followed an eventful Thursday evening in which authorities removed a long-contested Confederate monument in downtown Decatur and street artists unveiled a tribute to Black Lives Matter on a heavily-trafficked portion of the Beltline. 

Complete coverage: Atlanta protests 

Photos: Juneteenth events around metro Atlanta

Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the 1865 date when African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned they were no longer enslaved, has gained new attention this year. Several Atlanta companies have designated it a paid holiday for employees in the wake of recent protests. 

Events will continue throughout the evening on Friday and over the weekend across metro Atlanta

10:20 p.m. Our colleague Zachary Hansen has learned that a suspect was detained after a confrontation between a driver and protesters in Atlanta.

Hansen reports that just before 8 p.m., officers responded to a gunshot call at the intersection of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Boulevard in Midtown. A man had been shot at inside his vehicle, but he was not injured.

Investigators said the incident stemmed from a confrontation between the driver and protesters in the area.

6:30 p.m. Photographer Ben Gray sends along this photo of demonstrators from the Morehouse School of Medicine arriving at the Georgia Capitol: 

Demonstrators from the Morehouse School of Medicine arrive at the Georgia Capitol as they commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth on June 19, 2020. Ben Gray for the AJC/ Ben@bengray.com
Photo: Ben@bengray.com

Inside the building, a Senate committee debated House Bill 426, a hate crimes measure that was recently amended to include protected status for police and first responders. 

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who heads the Georgia Senate, indicated he’s supportive of the new version of the proposal: 


 

The last-minute changes to the bill have prompted some Democrats and civil rights organizations to drop their support, including the Georgia NAACP: 


 

6:10 p.m. Things are beginning to wrap up in Marietta as storm clouds roll in. Before many dispersed, demonstrated held candles in the air for a moment of silence to honor enslaved ancestors and others who have unjustly lost their lives in recent times.


 6:00 p.m. Looking for ways to celebrate Juneteenth from home? The Tabernacle is streaming a virtual celebration tonight starting at 8 p.m. that will feature performances by Common, Fantastic Negrito, Joy Oladokun and others, according to the AJC’s Courtney Kueppers. The festivities are being hosted by Charlamagne tha God. 

5:30 p.m. Some breaking news from our colleague Alexis Stephens:

Garrett David Rolfe, the former Atlanta police officer facing felony murder and other charges in Rayshard Brooks’ shooting death, will have a bond hearing on Tuesday. 

Rolfe, 27, surrendered Thursday, a day after Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced criminal charges in the case. 

Rolfe is currently being held in the Gwinnett County jail, where he's expected to remain through the weekend. On Friday, Rolfe waived his first court appearance and was being held without bond. His attorney attorney filed an emergency motion seeking bond today.

Stephens reports that Rolfe’s bond hearing will be held an hour after the funeral for Brooks, planned at Ebenezer Baptist Church at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A public viewing will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. that day, according to Brooks’ obituary

5:15 p.m. Decatur's overnight removal of its downtown Confederate obelisk has apparently prompted a similar debate in Lawrenceville. 

Our colleague Arielle Kass reports that Kirkland Carden, a Democratic candidate for the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, and Nabilah Islam, who ran for Congress as a Democrat in the 7th District, have started a petition asking the Board of Commissioners to remove downtown Lawrenceville’s memorial.

5:00 p.m. A diverse crowd of hundreds of people have assembled at the headquarters of the Cobb NAACP for a rally to commemorate Juneteenth and march to Marietta Square. 


 

Chrissy McGuire of Marietta learned about the event from a friend through Facebook. She said she felt it was important to come out and support efforts to address racism. 

"It's important for people to see us coming together in a civil and orderly way," said McGuire. 

James Ford of Acworth, a member of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, said these last three weeks have been a "trying time," but couldn’t pass up coming to the Square with his friend Willie Robinson for a "good unifying event." Ford said it's been difficult to explain how he has been feeling about the events of the last few weeks to his co-workers, but he makes sure he regularly checks on his friends. 

"We are black men, and we are taking the time to check on the young black men around us," he said. 

Marietta Councilman Reggie Copeland encouraged the crowd to vote, stating marching without voting is "like trying to kill a bear with a BB gun."

Cobb County Chairman Mike Boyce expressed support for making Juneteenth a national holiday. Boyce, who is up for reelection this year, also said change is happening now and will always happen "as long as you are involved."

4:30 p.m. A focal point for many recent demonstrations has been the Georgia Capitol, where lawmakers are currently debating hate crimes legislation and a state budget that makes deep cuts to government spending.

In particular, the events have brought renewed scrutiny to a bronze statue situated a stone’s throw from the Gold Dome. Sitting atop his horse in full Confederate regalia is John Brown Gordon, a former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator who served as a Confederate war commander and is generally acknowledged as a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

On Friday, 44 of Gordon’s descendants wrote to Gov. Kemp calling for the immediate removal of their ancestor’s statue, which was erected in 1907. 

“The continuing presence of this statue on public property serves to negate and undermine the past and ongoing struggle of Georgians to overcome and reverse the legacy of slavery and oppression of black Americans,” the group wrote. 

Removing Confederate markers is considerably difficult under a law Kemp signed last year. They can only be moved to a “site of similar prominence,” which means retiring them to museums or out-of-the-way parks is likely out of the question. In Decatur’s case, a DeKalb judge declared the monument to be a public nuisance and a threat to public safety, clearing the way for its removal while steering clear of Kemp’s law. 

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