Officials at Stone Mountain Park are bracing for a rally that is expected to bring hundreds to the foot of the world’s largest Confederate monument protesting what they see as an attack on their heritage.
The planned event picked up steam over the past week thanks to a social media campaign on Facebook and has drawn interest from supporters of the besieged Confederate battle flag as well as militia groups and separatist organizations advocating Southern secession.
John Bankhead, spokesman for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, said the park’s police department was made aware of the rally by organizers for planning purposes. But he said the park does not endorse the rally.
“The park had nothing to do with this,” he said. “The park is open to the public. Anybody that can pay the $15 fee can come into the park and they have a right to exercises their First Amendment rights.”
Bankhead said the park police are prepared for the rally to bring as many as 1,000 protesters to the park. Anger among the group has been fed by calls from groups like the Atlanta NAACP to alter or destroy the gigantic carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, but NAACP chapter President Richard Rose said his group is staying away from the park this weekend.
“To be honest with you, we come from a place of positive nonviolence. We expect that any kind of protest would be met with violence from anyone who flies the flag of hate,” he said.
Organizers have stressed on Facebook that their protest will be non-violent and project a positive message about Southern heritage. But messages from people who say they plan to attend indicate they will be prepared for “trouble” from people who disagree with their views.
“Best advice don’t go looking for trouble cause you will find it,” one commenter said. “But also remember in the state of Georgia, if you feel threatened you have the right to respond and defend yourself.”
Several said they planned to bring more than their flags with them.
In a thread debating whether to bring children to the rally, one person said they planned to bring their 11-month-old, but added “u best believe good ole smith an wesson will be with us.”
Opinions about the rally are mixed in the majority black city of Stone Mountain, whose 6,000 residents live in the shadows of the great granite monument.
Vivette Baker, a 57-year-old Jamaican émigré who runs a beauty store, shrugged off the controversy. She recalled watching an old white man draped in a Rebel flag walking, proudly, through an all-black neighborhood in town the other day.
“Don’t you just love America?” she said. “I’m not offended by it at all. Not even 1 percent. I want this all to blow over.”
Honour Olulu, a 23-year-old student from the town, is frustrated others aren’t taking more strident views.
“The history behind it is not really something we, as black people, want to remember,” she said. “At the end of the day, it depends on how hard people will fight for change. And this is one of many things we need to fight.”
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