In Georgia, protesters march past a monument commemorating the southern US slave past

ATLANTA, April 30 (Reuters) – Carrying signs denouncing “racist traitors”, about 100 civil rights activists marched and chanted in Georgia’s Stone Mountain on Saturday to protest the return of an annual Confederacy celebration.

The protest took place at the foot of a towering monument to heroes of the South’s pro-slavery past, as 200 supporters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) state chapter gathered for its celebration, which, according to he honors the sacrifices of their ancestors.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which operates part of the sprawling park about 20 miles northeast of Atlanta, canceled the rally in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the potential for violence during of the event.

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The celebration and protest passed off peacefully, with the two sides separated by fences and interacting only through shouting. A massive security presence had been set up, with dozens of state and local police, including SWAT teams with armored trucks and a police helicopter surrounded.

Atlanta’s NAACP and other civil rights supporters have tried to shout against the event, which it sees as a tribute to the South’s racist heritage.

“We oppose the celebration of chattel slavery,” NAACP state chairman Gerald Griggs said before the march began. “We can’t celebrate the world’s largest monument to white supremacy.”

The event took place at the foot of a 90-foot-tall (27.4-meter) bas-relief sculpture of three mounted Confederate leaders notched into the granite face of Stone Mountain.

Stone Mountain has long held the symbolism of white supremacists. The Ku Klux Klan, a hate group formed by Confederate Army veterans with a history of lynchings and terror against black people, held their mountaintop revival ceremony in 1915 with flaming crosses.

In recent years, tensions between the two sides “have begun to create a clear and present danger”, the association said in a statement. Still, he said he would let this year’s event go ahead and welcomed peaceful gatherings “on all sides”.

Timothy Pilgrim, the director of the Georgia branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, spoke out even as protesters yelled at him with boos and obscene pleas to “shut up.”

“We are here for heritage and history,” Pilgrim told Reuters ahead of the event. “It has nothing to do with racing, we welcome everyone to our programs.”

Martin O’Toole, SCV spokesperson and keynote speaker at the event, is also a leader of the Charles Martel Society, a self-proclaimed white nationalist group based in Atlanta.

O’Toole said the rally honors those who fought in the 1861-1865 American Civil War on the Confederate side, which sought to secede from the Union to determine its own fate.

“The South remembers its dead,” O’Toole said. “They were the patriots of their time.”

Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, said he personally wants to see the images of General Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson removed from the mountain. .

He said it was clear to him that the memorial service is a glorification of the pro-slavery cause.

“We have to be there and stand against this,” Rose said. “Silence gives consent and they glorify a past of chattel slavery and its horrific violence against humanity.”

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Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Daniel Wallis and Bill Berkrot

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