A small but spirited group of Confederate flag supporters climbed Stone Mountain Saturday with two things in mind: Keeping the mountain “pure” to its Confederate roots, and keeping a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. off of it.
By 1 p.m., only about 40 flaggers were assembled in front of the Stone Mountain Park police station, far fewer than what social media chatter last week had suggested.
“This mountain is dedicated to the soldiers who fought for the Confederacy,” said A.J. Dariano, who drove up from Lake City, Fla. “Those soldiers are also veterans. And throwing down the monument and the flag is a disgrace. They need to be honored.”
The pro-flag rally was announced about a month ago in response to a proposal to place a memorial bell on top of Stone Mountain in honor of King. Threats of counter-protesters never materialized and someone said the Ku Klux Klan pulled out earlier this week, although there were hints that Klan members were in the crowd.
Ringing the whole crowd was a militia, called “Georgia Security Force III%.” They were protecting the rally-goers.
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Bill Stephens, CEO of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, said Stone Mountain’s police forces was being assisted Saturday by the GBI and Department of Natural Resources. At times, it appeared there were more officers on hand than demonstrators.
Stephens said the idea of a King memorial is still in the proposal stage, although it will not be on the association’s agenda when it meets on Tuesday Instead, the association will immediately address another part of the proposal, building a museum-like monument to black Civil War soldiers.
“The bell is not on the agenda, but it is not going to be shelved,” said Stephens, dispelling chatter that the project was dead. “I don’t know where that came from. On Tuesday, we are planning on moving forward with the [the museum project].”
Jeremy White sat on the back of his pickup truck Saturday waiting for flaggers to drive in. A crowd gathered around him to read the white text on his red T-shirt. “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” it read.
White said it was a “family tree” shirt focusing on keeping “our bloodlines” pure, although he didn’t know where it came from.
But he pulled out his Bible from the dashboard of his truck to find out.
The phrase was in fact coined by white supremacist David Lane.
White said he and about 20 people drove up from Newnan to fight the “debasing of Stone Mountain and our history.”
“If somebody could tell me how Martin Luther King Jr. had anything to do with the Stone Mountain, I would be all for him being up there,” White said. “If he was here in the 1850s defending that mountain, I say carve him up there. But he wasn’t, so he doesn’t belong.”
During his lifetime, King, an Atlanta native and Nobel Peace Prize winner, likely had very little to do with Stone Mountain. From 1915 until the late 1950s, the Ku Klux Klan – which was re-established on Stone Mountain – would hold huge rallies there. Which is why in 1963, during his “I Have a Dream” speech, King said, “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”
Stephens said the memorial to King would incorporate that quote.
The King proposal comes at a critical time for Stone Mountain and the Confederate flag. A series of high-profile racial incidents that were carried out by so-called white supremacists – namely, the Charleston massacre – have led to nationwide efforts to get the flag banned and at least removed from public property.
Stone Mountain is state-run but is also a legally mandated Confederate monument. Confederate flags can be seen in designated spots in the park and a giant carving of Confederate leaders marks the side of the mountain.
“People don’t want to have rallies to get drug dealers off the streets, but they will rally to take the Confederate flag down, said demonstrator Armond Watkins. “I don’t know anybody that hates black people, but I know a lot of black people who hate me because of what we do. The flag is not about hate. I know a lot of black people who would be right out here with us if they could.”
At least one was.
Steve Coleman, who identified himself as Watkins' son-in-law, stood beside him as her ranted and preached.
“I am here to support my father-in-law,” Coleman said. “The heritage means a lot to me. It is about our heritage and everyone we love. I don’t see color.”
Coleman is also against placing a King memorial on top of the mountain.
“I believe in everything he stood for. And I also believe in the Confederacy,” Coleman said. “The two don’t mix.”
Behind Coleman, as if on cue, White said he found the verse in the Bible that he said suggests that blacks and whites should not mix.