Georgia park with Confederate sculpture shuts gates to rally

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FILE – This June 23, 2015, file photo shows a carving depicting Confederate Civil War figures Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, in Stone Mountain, Ga. The sculpture is America’s largest Confederate memorial. The suburban Atlanta park that’s home to the massive carving of Confederate leaders says it will close its gates Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in the face of a planned right-wing rally. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — Suburban Atlanta’s Stone Mountain Park, home of a giant sculpture of Confederate leaders, says it will close its gates Saturday in the face of a planned right-wing rally.

The event has sparked fears of violence, especially before an all-Black militia said earlier this week that it would cancel plans to show up. Other groups were still planning to counterprotest.

Pro-Confederate, white supremacist and other right-wing groups had planned their event in response to a march by the Black militia group on July 4.

Last year, the park also closed down rather than allow a rally organized by white supremacists to go forward.

The organizers were led by an Arkansas group called Confederate States III%, which applied for a permit. But Stone Mountain Memorial Association spokesperson John Bankhead said the park denied the permit on Aug. 4. The denial cited a violent clash between groups in April 2016. Bankhead said the park has not received any other permit applications. He said police would be present to keep demonstrators away.

Bankhead said the park will reopen Sunday.

Officials in the adjoining city of Stone Mountain advised people Friday to stay away from the city all day, residents to stay home and businesses to shut down.

“Do not confront the protesters,” the city wrote in a public announcement posted on social media.

“Please know that the city’s local law enforcement agency is managing the situation and has devised a plan for the protection of life and property,” the announcement continued. “Every effort is being made to ensure that any demonstrations conducted within the city’s limits are performed peacefully and without incident.”

The predominantly Black demonstrators on July 4 spoke out against the huge sculpture depicting Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Carved into a granite mountain, the bas-relief sculpture is the largest Confederate monument ever crafted.

The 100 to 200 protesters, many of whom carried large rifles, were peaceful.

Although the park has historically been a gathering spot for white supremacists, the adjoining city of Stone Mountain has a majority-Black population today.

The park at Stone Mountain markets itself as a family theme park rather than a shrine to the “Lost Cause” mythology that romanticizes the Confederacy as chivalrous defenders of states’ rights. It’s a popular recreation spot for many families on the east side of Atlanta, with hiking trails, a golf course, boat rentals and other attractions. The park has long been known for its laser light shows, but those have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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