The words “slavery” and “Civil War” don’t appear in a resolution filed in the Georgia legislature that’s meant to honor the state’s role in the “four-year struggle for state’s rights, individual freedom, and local government control.” It would recognize April as Confederate History Month, and April 26, 2017 as Confederate Memorial Day at the state capitol.
“We just elected a president that said he was tired of political correctness. And so that was the reason that we were looking to introduce the resolution," said Rep. Tommy Benton, a Republican from Jefferson, about 30 minutes northwest of Athens. "We think that our heritage is just as important as everybody else’."
The National Parks Service has a 28 page brochure titled “Slavery: Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War.” The subhead reads: “A number of issues ignited the Civil War: states’ rights, the role of the federal government, the preservation of the Union, the economy; but all were inextricably bound to the institution of slavery.” Historians largely agree slavery was the cause of the Civil War.
Benton, who said he’s a member of the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans, has filed similar measures in the past. Last year, he drew national attention after telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Ku Klux Klan “was not such a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order.”
Benton said he doesn’t see a connection between honoring the Confederacy, along with its history and symbols, and recent violence and harassment of black people.
A Georgia couple this year was sentenced to more than a decade in prison after they were found guilty of making terroristic threats to mostly the black attendants of a child's birthday party. A group drove by the party waving Confederate battle flags and brandishing shotguns. The judge in the case said the couple’s actions was motivated by racial hatred.
“This idea of every time something bad happens and wanting to blame it on a flag, or the idea of slavery, it’s just not right,” Benton said.
About the shooting by Dylann Roof of nine members of the historically black Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Benton said the media exaggerated the shooter's connection to the Confederate flag, and Confederate history.
Roof posed with the Confederate flag in photos, and visited Confederate heritage sites and slavery museums.
Francys Johnson of the Georgia NAACP called the resolution honoring the Confederacy “vile” and “stupid,” but said a number of bills currently pending the Georgia legislature have just as much of his attention.
“We must be concerned with symbols and symbols matter,” Johnson said. “But we must also be concerned with real legislation that also destroys the fabric of America that was painstakingly put back together after that most bloody conflict.”
Johnson would prefer a resolution in which Georgia apologizes for its role in the slave industry and Civil War, “when it endorsed a system of barbaric terrorism that reigned down upon people of color who were held as human chattel slaves.” The same resolution, Johnson suggested, could commemorate people killed in the Civil War, including freed slaves.
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) issued a statement Tuesday in response to the resolution.
“The GLBC has worked for years in a bipartisan effort to take the confederate symbol out our state flag. We have come far in that notion in hopes that Confederate History Month does not insight hatred or bigotry throughout the state of Georgia."
For years, state employees had a day off at the end of April for Confederate Memorial Day, but in 2016 Gov. Nathan Deal removed that language from the official state holiday calendar.
Deal, and other top legislative leaders declined, or did not respond to requests for comment about the resolution currently pending in the Georgia House.