Thousands Gather on Stone Mountain to Renounce Racism, Demonstrate Christian Unity

Following years-long effort to unite the Atlanta region, more than 20,000 believers gathered at site of historic injustice to repent, reconcile and believe for revival.

By Josh Shepherd Published on August 27, 2018

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

On Saturday, those red hills echoed with the resounding realization of Rev. King’s dream. A remarkably multi-ethnic group of over 20,000 Christians joined at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta for the inaugural OneRace Gathering. Eight-plus hours of prayer, worship, dialogue and celebration of unity centered on themes from the Christian gospel.

“We’re determined that the church will lead the way in racial healing,” said Bishop Garland Hunt, co-executive director of OneRace and pastor of The Father’s House in Norcoss, Ga. “Christians right here in this region have said, Enough is enough. We’re tired of giving in to racism that is hidden in religion. Jesus said, Let them be one as we are one. The Church is one blood and one race together.”

The large-scale gathering represented the culmination of a years-long vision among diverse leaders to bring believers together across ethnic, denominational and generational lines.

Civil Rights Icon Addresses Gathering

An all-day event in 87-degree Atlanta heat, it was a far cry from typical race relations events. Such forums have tended to engage intellect more than body and soul. OneRace began with thousands of millennials hiking Stone Mountain, a 1.6 mile uphill ascent. At the top, over 3,000 people gathered for prayer and high-volume praise.

Dr. John Perkins

Dr. John Perkins

To be heard over the din of voices in prayer, musicians played so loud they briefly blew out the sound system. The gathering continued at the base of Stone Mountain, with a larger group including young families and diverse congregants. Those on-stage led prayers, songs and responsive acts of worship.

“I’ve been longing for this day!” shouted Dr. John Perkins, a leading evangelical voice of the civil rights movement. “ — When we would come together across cultural barriers and become the people of God. You’ve fulfilled my dream. You’ve fulfilled my hope by taking responsibility.”

A revered civil rights figure who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., eighty-eight year-old Perkins was unreserved in his acclaim of the gathering. “That crowd out there looks like the church!” Perkins told The Stream in an interview. “There ain’t no majority here. Whether white, black or whatever, we’re all minorities. Isn’t that beautiful?”

To gather for such a purpose at Stone Mountain — in the shadow of Confederate figures carved in stone — seems contradictory at first glance. Or destiny.

Past Injustice, Present Repentance

During the decades of Reconstruction after the Civil War, many black Americans gained rights for the first time and saw community renewal. However, in the early 1900’s, racism reemerged as a dominant force … starting at Stone Mountain.

In 1915, the long-dormant Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was reborn when crosses were set ablaze at the summit. That same year, the United Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned a carving of Confederate figures on the gray dome. For 50 years, an annual Labor Day cross burning was held at the site.

“I’ve been longing for this day when we would come together across cultural barriers and become the people of God! You’ve fulfilled my dream.” – Dr. John Perkins

Those at OneRace spoke honestly of such painful, racist history — and its present-day implications. Two black leaders who had lost family members in the Charleston church shooting addressed the prayer gathering. In June 2015, a 21 year-old white man gunned down nine black members of the Emmanuel AME Church.

“One hundred years after the cross was burned on this mountain, my father Reverend Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. fell to the hand of racism,” said Dr. Rose Simmons. “But he has risen today in glory and he stands with the Father in the love of Jesus Christ! We are here proclaiming [that] racism is no more.”

Rev. Anthony Thompson, whose wife was killed by the gunman, also addressed the crowd and urged forgiveness. He was followed by Pastor Ferrell Brown, a direct descendant of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“I stand here today as a representation of the racism of the white man against African-Americans, against Jews, against Hispanics,” said Brown. “I repent and I’m asking forgiveness.”

Finding Each Other in Forgiveness

Called “one of the most moving moments” by Atlanta’s most-read newspaper, what Simmons, Thompson and Brown shared silenced the raucous praise heard only moments before. The leaders illustrated how racial healing works, as thousands followed their lead.

“Ferrell, I respond to your plea for forgiveness and I forgive you,” said Rose Simmons. “May God bless you. Thank you for the work that you have done in the Body of Christ so that we may take this movement all around the world.”

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Millennials gathered atop Stone Mountain huddled in small groups to share and pray through their own personal histories with race issues. Thousands more watched and participated at the base of the mountain. Over the next hour, another picture of reconciliation came into focus as the participants merged into one assembly.

The Cast-Iron Kettle … Set on a Table of Brotherhood

Black minister Will Ford brought out a cast-iron kettle, noting it had been in his family for two centuries. He related the dehumanizing treatment his forefathers had endured as slaves. Yet, in recent years, Ford had come to discover that his longtime friend Matt Lockett was a descendant of the family who had owned his ancestors.

In a climatic moment of the OneRace Gathering, leaders pray before serving communion. L-R: Will Ford, Matt Lockett, Garland Hunt, Billy Humphrey.

In a climatic moment of the OneRace Gathering, leaders pray before serving communion. L-R: Will Ford, Matt Lockett, Garland Hunt, Billy Humphrey. (Peter Phillips / OneRace Movement)

Ford and Lockett recently coauthored a book, The Dream King, which chronicles their multi-layered story. They recounted the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He said in his famous 1963 speech: “With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood […] Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!”

OneRace organizers set up a “table of brotherhood” on-stage, where Ford and Lockett related their histories and the truths they see revealed in the threads. For those gathered, such moments carried greater meaning after months of building relationship together.

OneRace, One Day, Several Years in the Making

Billy Humphrey of International House of Prayer-Atlanta and Bishop Garland Hunt spent the past two years reaching out to Atlanta-area pastors, urging them to meet and pray together.

By August the number of weekly gatherings in the region had multiplied to dozens, with more than 500 pastors participating. Still, they often encountered resistance. Pastor Johnson Bowie of Victory World Church in Buford, Ga. was one of the original five friends who launched OneRace alongside Humphrey and Hunt.

“If you go into an all-white church and start talking about race, the walls go up very quickly,” Bowie told The Stream. “I’m seeing pastors here, specifically white pastors, who haven’t come to any of the OneRace gatherings. That’s the sign people are starting to be more open to this. We’re going to continue the momentum in these prayer groups across this region.”

First Steps to Reviving the Culture: The Atlanta Covenant

Whitney Milord

Whitney Milord

To close OneRace, Humphrey and Hunt invited all to sign the Atlanta Covenant. It outlines the responsibility of the Church to take the lead in eliminating racism and seeking cultural restoration. Advocacy groups the And Campaign, Be the Bridge and others involved in acts of justice were highlighted throughout the day.

Participants in the day’s events were quick to point to prayer as the first step. Whitney Milord, who attends church in Lawrenceville, Ga., quoted familiar words when asked why she came.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” stated the young African-American woman. “Unity is God’s kingdom at work. There is no black and white; there is no him or her. If you have been to even one prayer meeting, you would know this is God’s work. OneRace is not a Billy or Garland Hunt thing; God had to do this.”

Civil rights icon Dr. John Perkins concurred in his remarks. “It took faith to get us here,” said Perkins. “I’m going to follow you just to encourage you. This is your time.”

Watch below as Dr. John Perkins prays over millennials gathered on the summit of Stone Mountain. Learn more about the OneRace Movement and how to get involved.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect new attendance information from Stone Mountain Park officials.

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