Civil rights groups are outraged by a proposal for black leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to be honored alongside heroes of the pro-slavery Confederacy at Georgia's Stone Mountain Park and will raise their objections with the governor on Wednesday.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded and led by King, and local chapters of the NAACP instead want Confederate symbols removed from prominent display at the family-oriented park.
"To honor Dr. King in that area - where it's surrounded by Confederate flags, .... the generals of the Confederacy, those who fought and advocated for the preservation of slavery - we think is inappropriate," said Rev. Darryl Gray, national field director of the SCLC, based in Atlanta.
Gray said his group, along with local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, planned to raise their concerns during an afternoon meeting with Georgia Republican Governor Nathan Deal.
The groups are concerned about a plan, reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the weekend, to honor King with a replica of the Liberty Bell featuring the inscription "Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia," a line from his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. King was later assassinated.
Stone Mountain Park, located on a site considered the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan white supremacist group, features a display known as the "Confederate Mount Rushmore." The 90-ft (27 m) relief sculpture honors Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson - all leaders of the secessionist Southern states during the Civil War of 1861-1865.
"We are not going to be tilted when you try to mix good with evil," said John Evans, president of the DeKalb County branch of the NAACP.
The Confederate flag and related symbols have been removed from many public displays since the June shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. The alleged gunman in the racially motivated attack was photographed posing with the flag.
Yet defenders see it as a sign of southern heritage, not hate. The Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans also opposes a King memorial at Stone Mountain.
The civil rights groups planned to hold a press conference after meeting with the Georgia governor, whose office did not respond to a request for confirmation and comment.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta. Additional reporting and writing by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)