Stone Mountain Park Denies Permit for Confederate Memorial Day Event

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association has denied a permit to the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) to hold an event this Saturday to mark Confederate Memorial Day.

Stone Mountain Park is controversial for its giant depictions of Confederate leaders, which are carved into the side of the mountain, and its historical association with the Ku Klux Klan.

The Georgia SCV has held a Confederate Memorial Day event at the site 18 times previously but last year the group's plans were thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bill Stephens, CEO of Stone Mountain Memorial Association, wrote a letter explaining the decision on March 31, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Stephens highlighted an ordinance saying that large events should not take place if they pose "a clear and present danger to public health or safety."

"With the volatile nature of events of the immediate past and ongoing today, there is a clear and present danger to members of the [SCV], potential counterprotesters, park employees and guests," his letter said.

Stephens also claimed that Stone Mountain Park's public safety department "does not have adequate resources to protect the event's participants, employees, and guests."

Stephens noted that Silver Dollar City, a group contracted to operate attractions at the park, said it would not allow SCV access to the Memorial Plaza Lawn amid concerns about COVID-19.

Martin O'Toole, a spokesperson for the Georgia division of SCV, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he understood concerns surrounding COVID but questioned the suggestion that the event would be a "clear and present danger."

"This is a memorial service that is part of the whole purpose for the park's existence," O'Toole said.

O'Toole told Newsweek on Tuesday that this is the first denial the Stone Mountain Mountain Memorial Association (SMMA) has given the Georgia SCV.

"The Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has been honored to host the National Confederate Memorial Day service at Stone Mountain for about 19 years. It was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic and we certainly can accept that as a legitimate reason for cancelation this year and will cooperate with the SMMA," he said in a statement.

"The SMMA did permit an armed Black militia group to parade in the park last July despite the pandemic and without finding a 'clear and present danger.' The group, which proudly sports an obscene name, certainly has the right to demonstrate under the First Amendment," he said.

O'Toole is referring to the group called the "Not F**king Around Coalition," a Black militia who marched through the park in July 2020. Newsweek asked Stone Mountain Park for comment on last year's march and its decision to deny the permit to the Georgia SCV event but hadn't received a reply at the time of writing.

"But to compare the Sons of Confederate Veterans with a militant, armed group such as this seems odd. This demonstration was permitted—as it should be—while our Memorial Service was barred," O'Toole said.

"The excuse offered by the Vendor [Silver Dollar City] also seems odd. The Memorial Service has been held at the Park for years and never before has a complaint about the lawn been voiced. It seems just a pretext," he went on. "Fortunately, the Vendor is going away so future Memorial Services should be unimpeded by such excuses."

"The Park is, by law and history, a memorial to the Confederacy boosting the world's largest bas-relief sculpture on the side of the Mountain. To permit a 'heckler's veto' would be a tragic surrender to the forces of the Cancel Culture," he said.

Stone Mountain is a controversial site dedicated to three major leaders of the Confederate States who played key roles in the American Civil War of 1861-1865. The carvings depict Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson as well as Jefferson Davis, first and only president of the breakaway nation.

The site has been a flashpoint in recent years, hosting a "white power" event that drew a large counter-protest in 2016, while in 2019 the park closed rather than host a Super Bowl weekend gathering of white nationalists.

Visitors to the Sons of Confederate Veterans national website are currently greeted with a long message about the 160th anniversary of the "war of southern independence."

"This is a tremendous opportunity for teachers, students, and families to get out and learn more about our Southern culture and its rich heritage," SCV says.

"So much is portrayed by Hollywood and the 'Cancel Culture' movement today presenting the South as evil; when, in reality, the South was the most peaceful, rural, and Christian part of America before the war and Reconstruction destroyed the pastoral way of life here."

4/13/21 10.30 a.m. E.T.: This article was updated with a statement from the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

blm stone mountain confederate militia
Protesters call for the removal of Georgia's confederate memorial at Stone Mountain Park. The park will not host a Confederate Memorial Day event this Saturday. JESSICA MCGOWAN / Stringer/Getty Images