ATLANTA – Black protesters called Wednesday for removing Confederate flags from a monument in an Atlanta cemetery where they recently buried the late president of a civil rights group co-founded by Martin Luther King Jr.
The flags at the Westview Cemetery fly over a sculpture of a Southern solider that memorializes the 400 Confederate veterans buried in the cemetery. The flagpole has an early version of the Confederate national flag and also its last flag, which contains the familiar stars-and-bars design carried by Confederate soldiers in the battlefield.
Mourners noticed the flags on Saturday while burying the Rev. Howard Creecy Jr., who died July 28 at age 57. His death came six months after he took the helm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King helped found. His funeral drew civil rights leaders such as SCLC president emeritus Joseph Lowery, U.S. Rep. John R. Lewis and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young.
"Many persons were upset and asked me to come and do something," the Rev. Benford Stellmacher, one of the protesters who gathered at the cemetery Wednesday, told WAGA-TV .
Some black protesters said they were particularly offended because they have family buried in the cemetery.
"For me, it is just an affront to everything that has happened for civil rights and justice for all people that are concerned that this flag still hangs," said John H. Lewis.
Cemetery officials say they understand the complaints, but added they cannot take down the flags since the cemetery years ago sold the rights to erect and maintain the monument to Confederate veterans groups. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose members trace their ancestry to Southerners who fought in the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, says the flags will remain.
The Civil War was largely fought over the issue of slavery, and many blacks see the flag as a racist symbol.
"Those flags have flown there for many years and will continue to fly there for many years honoring our Confederate heroes and Confederate dead," the organization told WAGA-TV. "It is not a racial issue."