(Reuters) – A predominantly black group of heavily armed protesters marched through Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta on Saturday asking for the removal of the giant Confederate rock carving on the site as civic activists consider a monument to racism.
FILE PHOTO: A woman speaks in front of the monument after protesters marched against the Confederate monument carved in granite at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia, USA June 16, 2020. REUTERS / Dustin Chambers
Video footage from the Independence Day rally posted on social media showed lots of protesters dressed in black – many in paramilitary-style clothing and all wearing face cloths – and silently mated in the direction of a sidewalk in the park.
The protesters carried all rifles, including military-type weapons, and some had ammunition belts thrown over their shoulders. Although African Americans appeared to be responsible for most of the marches, Protestants from different races, both men and women, were in the group.
A video showed a leader of the unidentified protesters shouting in a speaker in a challenge to white supremacists who have historically used Stone Mountain as their own gathering place.
“I see no white militia,” he explained. “Be here. Where are you? We are in your house. Now we go.”
John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, said the protesters were peaceful and orderly.
“It’s a public park, a state park. We have these protests on both sides of the issue now and then. We respect people’s first right to change, Bankhead told NBC’s affiliate station WXIA-TV.
“We understand the sensitivity of the issue here in the park … so we respect that and let them in as long as it’s peaceful, which it has been.”
Stone Mountain, which reopened for the holiday week after a weeks-long closure of the corona virus, has faced renewed calls for removal since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis police.
Floyd’s killing helped revive a long-dwindling conflict between groups that sought to remove Confederate statues and sculptures, which they see as pro-slavery symbols, and those who believe they honor the traditions and history of the deep South.
Nine floors high and spans the length of the football field. The Stone Mountain sculpture carved into a granite wall overlooking Georgia’s landscape about 40 miles east of Atlanta is still the largest monument to the American Civil War Federation.
It contains the similarities of Jefferson Davis, president of the 11-state federation, and two of his legendary generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Eureka, California; Editing by Clarence Fernandez