Long Time Coming: Georgia Rises Up
Monday marked Georgia's "Confederate Memorial Day,” recently, modestly renamed in the ostensibly more enlightened spirit of the times as a "State Holiday." Created in 1866 by the Ladies Aid Society, it was designed to set aside "as a religious custom of the South, to wreathe our martyred dead with flowers” the date in 1865 when 89,000 Confederate troops laid down their arms and surrendered to Gen. Sherman, officially ending the war in Georgia and the Carolinas. "Let every city, town and village join in the pleasant duty... (to remember those who) had rallied in defense of the holiest and noblest cause for which heroes fought, or trusting women prayed.”
With the inexorable cultural changes that have seen the quiet renaming of such holidays and the hard-fought demise of the Confederate flag, other potent symbols of the Old South have drawn the feverish attention of those who feel under siege in a new world. One key symbol is Atlanta's Stone Mountain Park, the site of a three-acre mountainside carving and tribute to three leaders in the fight to uphold slavery: Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Given a state law mandating that Stone Mountain remain a memorial to the Confederacy, and the fact the site is known as the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, it perfectly represents the charge that racism in Georgia "is chiseled into stone and law." The final irony of the monument: The population of Stone Mountain, the city that shares a name with the park, is three-quarters black.
Defensive officials at Stone Mountain have proposed downplaying the Confederate schtick by placing a Liberty Bell replica in honor of Martin Luther King atop the mountain, where it would be invisible from the ground - a move critics have dismissed as an attempt to distract people from the horrors of slavery with "a damn bell." Such efforts have also inflamed those who fear the extinction of the white race under a rising tide of color and diversity. Thus did about 25 white supremacists - a tad lower than the expected turnout of 2,000 - come this weekend to wave "Diversity = White Genocide" banners at a rally they'd dubbed, “Rock Stone Mountain,” one of several such rallies. One participant lamented a country that "has been going downhill" over the last 50 years of "egalitarianism, which is not biblical, it's not constitutional, and it's not what we're founded on" - though, umm, actually, it is.
The racist protesters were outnumbered by police in over-the-top riot gear, as well as by several hundred anti-racism protesters under the auspices of Rise Up Georgia. The protesters, including about 50 Black Lives Matter activists, had carefully orchestrated the action, beginning with blocking traffic by paying $15 park entrance fees in pennies. Others took to the woods to get around police, scuffled with them or threw rocks at them; several were arrested. Using hashtags like #HeritageofHate and #Time2Escalate, the protesters argue against having to fight a newer, subtler racism that feels as offensive as the old explicit kind. “It’s 2016,” said Shanda Neal. “We should not be dealing with this same BS of racism and prejudice. There’s no room for it. It should just be over.” Decades ago, Georgia's own Otis Redding sang of it: "It's been a long, long time coming/ But I know, but I know a change is gotta come."