By Darrin Heatherly, Cody McGhee, Gabe Ramos, James White and Cam Moyer
STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. – A beautiful, clear-sky day within Georgia’s national park quickly turned to chaos when a “white pride” rally began gaining movement on April 28. More than 100 protesters showed up to oppose the group, including members of the New Black Panthers, Bloods, Black Lives Matter, All ATL Movement and the NAACP.
One pro-white demonstrator and eight counter-protesters were arrested during the rally at the Confederate landmark. “Rock Stone Mountain”, a collection of individuals whose cause is to preserve the white race, was heavily outnumbered by counter-protesters and resulted in their confinement to the Yellow Daisy Lot within the park.
John Bankhead, the public information officer at Stone Mountain, said he believed this would prevent any further chaos within the larger, more public areas of the park.
“We decided to shut down all the attractions of the park,” Bankhead said. “We hope to keep all of this out of the way of our normal visitors.”
Nearly $61000 was spent on resources to prevent inevitable violence. The expenses account for 135 Georgia state troopers and supporting officers in an attempt to keep peace.
“Rock Stone Mountain” only consisted of roughly 20 members during the rally. Members of the pro-white rally were hoisting Confederate symbols and one member was covered in derogatory tattoos including the swastika, a symbol used by Nazi Germany during World War II. Many counter-protesters believed this was a Ku Klux Klan gathering.
John Estes was the initial organizer and spokesman for “Rock Stone Mountain”. After gaining access past SWAT and Police officials, our cameras were able to capture the scene from Estes.
“I’m a regular white guy who has some very real concerns,” Estes said. “Does this little girl look like she’s part of the Klan? There are families out here.”
Rock Stone Mountain was organized online and many of their members came from all around the South to preserve their heritage.
“We are Rock Stone Mountain,” Estes said. “We are a collection of independent people, not an organization. We are a non-partisan group expressing our freedom of speech.”
Since the June 2015 shooting of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Confederate symbol received a lot of criticism. Dylan Roof, the shooting suspect, used the flag as a symbol of hate and an attempt to spark a second civil war.
“There’s people that want this [Stone Mountain] sandblasted,” said Estes. “They want his [Martin Luther King] statue on top of the mountain. This is one of the few Confederate monuments left. This is a Confederate museum. Let’s not lose sight of that.”
The Counter Protest
Counter-protesters were in heavy abundance. Some groups, including the Black Panthers, were causing violence attempting to reach the Yellow Daisy Lot. Riot Police were sent to set up blockades wherever the protesters were heading, attempting to prevent them from directly reaching the pro-white rally.
Peaceful protesters were also in heavy numbers, including members from All Out Atlanta, the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.
Kate Strub, Blake Allen and Lowell Fleming traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina in hopes to send a peaceful message to all of the protesters.
“We are with Unitarian Universalist, specifically the Unitarian Universalist of Charlotte,” Strub said.
The three individuals held a large sign in unison that read “If you want to stand on the side of love, STAND with US.” Their message was clear.
“We want to show them that love is the answer, and not hate,” Strub said. “Violence against violence will not change anything.”
An Experience from All Walks of Life
Many regular and first-time visitors of the park became witnesses to chaotic riots. June Nichols, 63, was taking her daily walk up the mountain when she became witness to masked men wielding assault rifles and SWAT enforcers.
“I came to walk,” Nichols said. “I saw men and women dressed in black with, I don’t know what kind of guns – those big assault rifle guns. I saw police everywhere with police dogs.”
Nichols signed a petition earlier in the year hoping to prevent this and any other event like this from happening in the future. Unfortunately, the petition did not countervail the permit “Rock Stone Mountain” applied for.
“There was a petition that was being put around, which I signed, that would prevent the KKK and hate-groups like shouldn’t be able to come to a public area where people of all different races come,” Nichols said.
Nichols grew up on a farm in Ohio and experienced repulsive acts of racism growing up. Her fear is that her son has to experience the same kind of hatred in 2016.
“When I was a kid, if we went to a public swimming pool and there were white patrons there, they’d jump out,” said Nichols. “You should not have to say you’re better. You can say you’re as good as, but not better. If you are better, be better. People who are like that are insecure and they want to spread hate.”
A Stone Plagued in History
Geographically speaking, Stone Mountain is one of the most unique land forms to develop within the state of Georgia. The 1,686 foot tall rock composed of mostly quartz monzonite formed 350 million years ago as a result of the Blue Ridge Mountains forming into place.
Formally dubbed by Georgians as the “largest exposed piece of granite in the world” the mountain actually consists of quartz, feldspar, microcline and muscovite and partial granite and granodiorite.
Regardless of its content, Stone Mountain has become a symbol in the Southeast as not only a landmark for tourism, but a territory plagued by racial divide, war and conflict throughout its history.
It is the same mountain where the Venable brothers, notable Klan affiliates, were responsible for the second resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to Stone Mountain in his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” It is the same mountain where three confederate leaders imprint the front of the stone.
Originally coined “Rock Mountain” by early settlers, the mountain was inhabited by many natives including the Creek and Cherokee peoples in 1597.
In 1958, the state of Georgia purchased the mountain from William and Samuel Venable for $1.12 million. The DeKalb County landmark slowly transitioned into a popular attraction site for tourists and has since served as a must-see landmark when visiting Georgia, however, not without its controversy.
White Supremacy History at Stone Mountain
Surprisingly, the history of white supremacy at Stone Mountain dates back further than the large confederate-themed carving plastered on the north face of the mountain.
On November 25 1915, a group of roughly 15 men, led by William J. Simmons met on top of Stone Mountain to revive the once dead Ku Klux Klan. William and Samuel Venable, then owners of Stone Mountain, gave the Ku Klux Klan access to host celebrations on the mountain at will. The actions of Simmons and the Venable brothers foreshadowed the future of the park and those who would meet at Stone Mountain.
With the backing from ownership and the Ku Klux Klan, construction on the world’s largest bas-relief carving was set in stone in 1916. Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson are depicted riding their favorite warhorses in a carving that stretches almost two football fields long. With the Confederate carving taking place, Stone Mountain was beginning the process of becoming a Confederate memorial.
Construction of the Confederate carving came to a halt from 1928 to 1958. It was until Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin urged the state of Georgia to buy Stone Mountain, that work on the carving resumed. In 1964 construction resumed and in 1972 the carving was considered complete.
Fast forward to 2015, when Stone Mountain found itself in the middle of controversy surrounding the Confederate memorial. Due to recent acts by neighboring states, the Georgia public called for the removal of all Confederate memorials around the park, including flags. According to the law set by the state of Georgia, the Confederate carving is off limits to changing. As for the other confederate figures located around the park, approval by the Georgia state legislature would be required for change.
Where We Stand Today
Stone Mountain truly is one of a kind. Known for its beauty, the mountain has a unique way to attract ugliness. One hundred years after the first Ku Klux Klan meeting took place on top of the mountain; racism still lingers throughout the park. Some, like Estes, see the mountain as heritage; others see it as a sign of hatred and oppression. One sad fact is for certain, the same unique, beautiful mountain that served a role in racial tension 100 years ago is still doing the same today.