ATLANTA (AP) Confederate flags will continue flying at Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta because Georgia law prevents their removal, according to what the head of a state authority that oversees the park said July 1.
The law would have to be changed for the flags to be removed, said Bill Stephens, chief executive officer of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association.
Stephens said the park’s Flag Terrace, where several versions of Confederate flags fly, was donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1964. He said it’s considered a memorial and, as such, can’t be removed or relocated under Georgia law.
In a written statement he said, “The law that changed the flag to our current state flag also expressly prohibited changes at Stone Mountain Park. Some on both sides of these issues have said that these Confederate symbols belong in a museum. Here in Georgia, Stone Mountain Park serves that purpose.”
He added that anyone who tampers with the park’s memorials to the Confederacy could be charged with a crime.
Earlier, Stephens had said the park’s leaders were considering what to do about the flags and researching their options.
The Confederate banner has come under renewed criticism nationwide after a June 17 church massacre in Charleston, S.C. The man accused in the case posed for photos with the Confederate symbol.
Stone Mountain’s flag situation has parallels to that of the Confederate battle flag hanging at the South Carolina statehouse grounds. South Carolina law prevents that flag from being moved without a two-thirds majority approval from both chambers of the legislature.
Stone Mountain Park has been fielding phone calls about the flags from opponents as well as supporters and employees have been listening to all viewpoints, Stephens said.
Among opponents is Shannon Byrne, a 1993 graduate of Stone Mountain High School who frequently hikes the trails on and around the mountain. She said she thinks it’s shameful that the Confederate flags are flown at Stone Mountain, particularly since it’s a place where the Ku Klux Klan once held cross-burnings and organizational meetings.
But to others, the Confederate flags represent the valor and honor the Confederate soldiers who fought in the American Civil War. Sons of Confederate Veterans spokesman Ben Jones, who played Cooter on the Dukes of Hazzard TV show and later represented Georgia in Congress, said the flags are a source of pride for him and other descendants of rebel fighters.
Among flags flying at Stone Mountain, the one that attracts frequent criticism is the mostly red-and-blue banner often referred to as the battle flag. Asked whether that flag could be swapped with another in the park’s display, Stephens said park officials interpret state law as saying it can’t be changed, since it’s a memorial.
“They are decisions for the General Assembly to make in terms of changing the law,” Stephens said.
More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition at MoveOn.org urging the Confederate Flags be taken down at Stone Mountain Park.
“Stone Mountain can have historical and educational context, but should not celebrate a culture of hate,” the petition states. “Flying the flag is a sign of respect and honor, neither of which should be given to racism and a legacy of enslaving people.
“The Confederate flag perpetuates values of and pride in White supremacy and racism,” the petition states. “We believe that every person should be able to visit the park without seeing blatant signs of hate.”
Mary Faircloth of Stone Mountain commented on the petition, “It’s the 21st century! Not 1870!”
Elisheva Aneke of Bloomington, Ind., and who grew up in Lithonia, wrote that “as a Black woman, the many Confederate memorials and symbols are discouraging reminders of how little the systems of oppression have changed to afford Black people with the same opportunities as White Americans. Take down the flags.”
Maryellen Pient of Atlanta wrote that the “the symbols of the Confederacy are an insult to the people who visit this park, the majority of which are African American.”
Another petition signer, Kristen of Decatur, said the flags should be removed because “it seems like they are being revered. Historical, yes. Honorable, no. No more honorable than a swastika.”
Andrew Cauthen contributed to this story.
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