A protest calling for the removal of downtown Dallas’ Confederate War Memorial got heated Thursday evening when a group of counter-demonstrators interrupted the proceedings, turning the event into a shouting match.

A few dozen protesters had gathered next to the monument at Pioneer Park Cemetery, near Dallas City Hall, where the 60-foot-high monument is ringed by statues depicting Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

“These monuments pay homage to one thing and one thing only,” said organizer Eric Ramsey of activist group In Solidarity. “Racism.”

In the near distance, eight men stood around a couple of Confederate flags. Several wore shirts reading “Sons of Confederate Veterans,” a group that has opposed any tampering with Confederate monuments, calling them part of Dallas’ – and America’s – historical record.

Protesters saw things differently – with one speaker, Collin College professor Michael Phillips, describing the memorial as “a shrine devoted to a toxic faith.”

“We stand in ominous shadows,” said Phillips, one of a handful of those addressing the diverse and low-key crowd. Only one protester carried a sign, reading “Celebrate Freedom, Not Slavery.”

The group hopes to prod City Council members to begin the process of having the 60-foot-high column removed. Such a move would echo similar moves in New Orleans and Charleston, S.C., which have already removed Confederate monuments.

In place of such monuments, Ramsey said, should be others celebrating “those who have made the necessary sacrifices to propel us forward, instead of holding us back, as these monuments do.”

Partway into remarks by Pastor Michael Waters, the group of men with the Confederate flags approached the crowd, with one finally unable to contain himself when Waters recounted the tragic killing of nine churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

“Why don’t you ask us what we think of him?” said Festus Allcock of Fort Worth. “He’s a sorry little bastard.”

Several of the men continued to shout as Waters spoke as others implored them to be quiet.

“You had nothing to say when a white man was talking,” said a woman with a hijab.

Waters approached the men and said, “Let me ask you something. What would have happened to my people if the South had won?”

As tensions boiled over, Ramsey called for the protest to disband, which it mostly did. Some protesters began to sing “We Shall Overcome,” which was immediately countered with “I Wish I Was In Dixie” from the men.

Several of those with the Confederate flag said their families had been poor and unable to afford slaves during the time of the Civil War. For them, they said, the conflict was about taxation and trying to make a living – not about slavery or white supremacy.

“If you see a Klan rally, we’ll be the first ones out there,” Allcock said. “That’s not what we stand for. The men that are buried in this ground are what we stand for.”

Just the same, said Collin College’s Phillips, it was time to move forward.

“We can remain prisoners in a metaphysical plantation,” he said, “or we can make our parks bold proclamations of freedom.”

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