July 4 crowds ignore call to boycott Georgia park over Confederate flag

By Rich McKay STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. (Reuters) - Fourth of July holidaymakers ignored a call to boycott Georgia's Stone Mountain Park, known as the "Confederate Rushmore," over its display of the contentious Confederate flag. Hundreds of people had staked out spots at the 3,200-acre (1,295-hectare) privately run park by noon on Saturday for nighttime laser and fireworks shows. They shrugged off heavy rain on the park's busiest day of the year as well as the boycott call. Democratic state Representative LaDawn Blackett Jones this week urged people to stay away from the park 10 miles (16 km) east of Atlanta because it flies three flags of the pro-slavery Confederacy alongside the U.S. and Georgia state flags. Bobbie Smith of Fitzgerald, Georgia, who was camping at Stone Mountain with her family, called the boycott call "just stupid." “This whole park is a Confederate memorial. If you don’t have the flag here, where on Earth would you put it?” she said. The Confederate flag from the 1861-65 U.S. Civil War has become a lightning rod for outrage after the shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, last month. The white suspect, Dylann Roof, had posed for photos with the Confederate battle flag. Politicians in several Southern states have called for removal of the flag and other Confederate memorials from public spaces. A raft of major retailers have said they would pull items with the Confederate flag on them. Ray Simpkins, of Kennesaw, Georgia, who brought his children to see the laser show, said the flag remains a reminder of the Confederacy's advocacy of slavery. "Although I don’t love it, I think there’s a place for it here,” said Simpkins, who is black. “But it shouldn’t fly next to the U.S. flag." The park is on state land and run by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. Spokesman John Bankhead said, “People on both sides of the issue say it (the flag) belongs in a museum. Here in Georgia, the Stone Mountain Park serves as that.” The park is known as the "Confederate Mount Rushmore" for its 90-foot-tall (27-meter-tall) relief sculpture of three Confederate figures - President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The park describes it as the largest high relief sculpture in the world. The mountain is also infamous as the founding spot of a 20th century version of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group. (Editing by Ian Simpson and Christian Plumb)