STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — For 20 years, the Confederate Memorial Day celebration has been taking place at Stone Mountain Park -- right in front of the mountain’s iconic carving of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and “Stonewall” Jackson.
In recent times, this site has been a focal point for protest. Over the generations, it's a day that's reopened wounds from 160 years ago and to debate the meaning of the American Civil War via ceremony and counter-protest.
The carving has been in place on Stone Mountain for more than 50 years. The debate over its symbolism will likely remain for decades to come.
On Saturday, The Sons of Confederate Veterans gathered at Stone Mountain to observe Confederate Memorial Day.
Those against the gathering said this event is rooted in racism.
“The celebration of the people who wanted to continue the institution of slavery is just inappropriate in today’s world. We’re not supportive of that and want to make sure people are aware this is going on in a state park," said Brian Morris of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition.
But Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans member Eric Cleveland said critics of the event don’t understand what it is really about.
“People need to see our entire history. All of our history is important. Yours, mine. It all comes together in this great tossed salad that they call this country," Cleveland said.
Richard Rose, of the National Coalition to End the Confederacy, said this annual celebration highlights the state’s tone deaf approach to diversity and inclusion.
“The practices, the polices... it absolutely reflects racism," he explained. "Bigotry reigns in Georgia and other southern states."
The celebration brought out hundreds of people who enjoyed music, speeches and food.
Protesters rallied in the nearby Stone Mountain Village then marched to the Memorial Park, where they shouted for change.
However, supporters of the event said they don’t plan to change a thing.
“This park is entitled the Confederate Memorial Park. So there’s no better place to have a Confederate Memorial Day service than here," said Martin O’Toole of the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans.
There was a stepped up police presence at Saturday’s event, but according to Georgia State Patrol, there were no issues.