Stone Mountain is seen by people on either side as a key battleground in the Confederate battle flag debate.
It’s literally easy to see why. The mountain famously is home to an enormous carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The mountain is, by state law, a Confederate memorial.
That’s why groups like the NAACP and the Confederate heritage movement view it as a central point in their arguments. The Atlanta chapter of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference have called on the park to take down its public display of Confederate flags and to destroy the memorial carving. Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans oppose that idea and they and other, unaffiliated organizations have rallied several times at the park to make their point.
But along with being a Confederate memorial, Stone Mountain is a state-owned, public park. It is not private property and park officials have to make reasonable accommodations for rallies and protests protected under the First Amendment.
That’s a point association spokesman John Bankhead wanted to make perfectly clear following an investigative piece published last week in the AJC.
“Stone Mountain Park does not sanction or endorse these rallies, and park officials have worked diligently with rally organizers on both sides of this issue to ensure a safe and secure environment as they exercise their First Amendment rights,” he said.
The AJC story tracks the influence of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists in organizing a Nov. 14 rally in support of the Confederate flag. A “white power” rally is in the planning stages for next April, according to organizers.
Since the park is public property, the association has no power to refuse these rallies, Bankhead said. The best they can do is ensure people behave.
“The park is welcoming to all visitors, and we had requested and will request of the organizers that they respect the rights of others (as) they exercise their own,” he said.
So far, that’s not been a problem. An Aug. 1 rally drew a few counter-protesters who engaged in dramatic shouting matches with some of the pro-flag group, but there has been no violence.
The rallies have gotten smaller since an Aug. 1 gathering drew between 700-800. The Nov. 14 rally drew about 70, a fact organizers blamed on advance publicity of their Klan affiliations by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center.