On Saturday, organizations, community members and activists will take advantage of the Super Bowl’s spotlight on Georgia’s capital to launch a movement calling for the removal of Confederate monuments and symbols in the state.
Demonstrators at the “United We Shall Stand Rally,” set for noon at Piedmont Park, will also address voter suppression and police brutality, according to Richard Rose, president of the NAACP Atlanta chapter, which is co-sponsoring the event.
“This Saturday will be a good time to highlight Georgia’s issues,” he told HuffPost.
NAACP Atlanta released a statement on Facebook last week condemning the number of standing Confederate memorials in the state. The organization also singled out the largest Confederate memorial in the U.S. on Stone Mountain, once described as “a blight” on Georgia by former Democratic nominee for governor Stacey Abrams.
“Despite the relatively progressive racial climate in metro Atlanta, too much of Georgia follows the sentiment of the Confederate carvings at Stone Mountain, the largest shrine to white supremacy in the history of the world,” the local NAACP chapter’s statement read in part.
The Atlanta NAACP chapter joined forces with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alliance for Black Lives and Georgia Alliance for Social Justice to sponsor the event.
The coalition’s rally will fall on the eve of the Super Bowl, which has drawn attention over its own issues of race and politics.
On Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fielded questions from reporters about former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has not been signed to an NFL team since becoming a free agent after the 2016 season.
When Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem at games in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality, it sparked a wave of similar protests by other NFL players. Many have protested the NFL and its big game over allegations that the league blackballed Kaepernick for his activism.
The Super Bowl halftime show has also been a source of controversy; artists Maroon 5, Travis Scott and Atlanta’s Big Boi have faced backlash since the NFL announced their appearances earlier this month.
Other high-profile artists have reportedly backed away from performing at the Super Bowl out of support for Kaepernick and others who protested.
Rose told HuffPost that the Atlanta NAACP wants its community “to make their own decisions” when it comes to deciding whether to boycott the NFL and Super Bowl LIII. But he added that he believes “Kaepernick was correct for not standing” for the national anthem.
“This is not the land of the free,” he said, adding, “We want America to really look at itself. We have to be honest about who we are.”
Heidi Beirich, intelligence project director at Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), said staging the rally just ahead of the Super Bowl is significant for two main reasons: to celebrate how sports can show the possibilities of what a “real multicultural diverse future” looks like and to reflect on the strength of players who stood up to President Donald Trump and his rhetoric.
The president has staunchly criticized NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem. In 2017, he drew criticism for referring to protesting players as “sons of bitches.”
Beirich told HuffPost that the rally also had an earlier goal of countering organizers who sought a permit to rally at Stone Mountain in support of protecting its carving of Confederate leaders.
Stone Mountain Memorial Association spokesman John Bankhead confirmed to HuffPost that the group’s permit request for Saturday had been denied.
The association cited concerns of a “clear and present danger to the public health or safety” in its denial letter to the group, according to a copy of the November letter emailed to HuffPost.
“That is not what Atlanta and Georgians are about,” Beirich said, adding that the “United We Shall Stand Rally” is instead about positivity.
Beirich said the rally is aimed at drumming up support to push for legislation that would allow local communities in the state to have a voice in determining whether to remove Confederate monuments that are protected by state laws.
An SPLC June study identified more than 1,700 Confederate symbols in the U.S.
Football fans from across the country are arriving in Atlanta for the Super Bowl.
Beirich said rally organizers hope that some of those fans “might stop by.”