The real story of Saturday, April 21, was not how approximately 36 neo-Nazis rallied in Greenville Street Park and walked down Main Street in Newnan, but how the small Georgia city came together to fight darkness with light and hatred with love.
When word got out a few weeks earlier that the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement had secured permission to rally in Newnan and that Antifa, a masked group that counters neo-Nazi rallies with strongarm tactics, was coming as well, Coweta County residents prepared for a potentially explosive, hate-filled confrontation.
Locals decided that their response ought to be one of love, unity and strength and that Newnan would not be defined by the outside groups.
Newnan, a city of 33,000 people 40 miles southwest of Atlanta, was established in 1828. It has a charming downtown lined with mom-and-pop stores and historic homes. It has a checkered history of racism and slaveholding, and it has the largest, undisturbed slave cemetery in the South and a museum that focuses on African-American history.
Downtown businesses decided to close Saturday to avoid trouble, so people descended on the city Friday, April 20, to shop and show support. Locals wore T-shirts with “NEWNAN STRONG” on the front and a list of local shopkeepers on the back.
A quaint store named Let Them Eat Toffee had a sign outside reading, “Chocolate doesn’t discriminate, chocolate loves everybody.”
After school Friday, children drew pictures of love, rainbows and kind words with pastel chalk on the sidewalks, and a banner was placed over Main Street: “Newnan Loves Everyone.”
Law enforcement brought in hundreds of reinforcements and special anti-riot and crowd-control equipment, including a helicopter.
“I will never be silent in the face of evil,” Winter said about organizing the Saturday afternoon rally in Lynch Park.
About 75 people attended the anti-hate rally, including the Sabra Riders, a Jewish motorcycle club from Atlanta, whose members brought Israeli and American flags. Some people stayed away because of safety concerns, and others joined rallies in churches, such as the interfaith Live Up to Love service at St. Smyrna Baptist Church, where Congregation Bet Haverim Rabbi Joshua Lesser spoke.
“We are different religions, backgrounds and political parties,” Winter said, “but we stand together today in love and respect for all.”
Jewish speakers at the Lynch Park rally included this reporter, Eternal-Life Hemshech President Karen Lansky Edlin and The Temple Rabbi David Spinrad, who referenced the “small-minded, hate-filled ideas of white supremacists.”
Also addressing the crowd were Newnan Mayor Keith Brady, Coweta County Commissioner Al Smith, Newnan Mayor Pro Tem Cynthia Jenkins (who organized the later Live Up to Love service), Nabile Safdar of the Islamic Speakers Bureau, the Rev. Miriam Beecher of Christ Our Shepherd Lutheran Church (host of a Yom HaShoah program six days earlier) and Cynthia Bennett of the Coweta Democrats.
Beecher spoke passionately about the need to work together against evil and quoted Martin Luther King Jr.: “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Rally attendee Gloria Abramowitz lives in Florida but visits Atlanta often and was one of the hundreds who refused to be silent in Newnan. “My family has served in the United States Army for four generations,” she said. “The thought of neo-Nazis doing a Nazi salute in America is reprehensible to me.”