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President kicks off Independence celebration with Mount Rushmore fireworks

 Fireworks light the sky at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Friday, July 3, 2020, near Keystone, S.D., after President Donald Trump spoke. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Fireworks light the sky at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Friday, July 3, 2020, near Keystone, S.D., after President Donald Trump spoke. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (KOTA)
Published: Jul. 4, 2020 at 9:11 AM CDT
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Two America's were put on display in the Black Hills Friday; one celebrating the birth of a nation while the other protesting civil rights abuses.

At Mount Rushmore Friday night, President Donald Trump and 7,500 spectators kicked off the Fourth of July weekend celebrations with the first fireworks show in a decade at the monument.

The president delivered a fiery speech in which he accused protesters who have pushed for racial justice of engaging in a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.” He zeroed in on the desecration by some protesters of monuments and statues across the country that honor those who have benefited from slavery, including some past presidents. Trump said, “This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore."

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a longtime supporter of Trump, teed up his speech with her own rhetoric. “Make no mistake: This is being done deliberately to discredit America’s founding principles by discrediting the individuals who formed them,” she said.

Nearby, around Keystone, an estimated 100 protesters blocked Highway 16A with several white vans. The protesters, mostly Native American, want Mount Rushmore removed. Some held their fists in the air as cars loaded with event attendees passed by. Others held signs that read “Protect SoDak’s First People,” “You Are On Stolen Land” and “Dismantle White Supremacy.”

“The president needs to open his eyes. We’re people, too, and it was our land first,” said Hehakaho Waste, a spiritual elder with the Oglala Sioux tribe.

After several hours, the road was cleared and 15 protesters arrested.

Friday, Trump also said he will establish a “National Garden of American Heroes,” which he is describing as “a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans who ever lived.” The executive order released Friday by the White House says the garden will feature statues of several presidents as well as other historic notables, including Davy Crockett, Amelia Earhart, Billy Graham, Harriet Tubman and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

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