LEGISLATURE 2007: NAACP calls Confederate bill offensive: Panel OKs measure with unanimous vote

Found in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Written by Sonji Jacobs
Posted on 2007-03-16

Published on: 03/16/07

A bill that would permanently establish April as Confederate History and Heritage Month in Georgia sailed through a Senate committee Thursday without any opposition.

Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), the sponsor of Senate Bill 283, told the Senate Rules Committee that the proposal would help promote tourism in the state and preserve an important part of the state's and the nation's history.

"I'm not doing this for controversial reasons, but to commemorate a struggle that happened," said Mullis, whose North Georgia hometown was the site of a major Civil War battle in 1863.

The proposal has offended some civil rights leaders, who last week asked the Legislature and Gov. Sonny Perdue to offer a symbolic apology for the state's role in slavery.

The Rev. Francys Johnson, the NAACP's Southeast region director, said the organization is "vehemently opposed" to Mullis' bill and finds it hypocritical.

"At the same time that the proponents of this bill want to deny any responsibility for state sanctioned and sponsored slavery from 1755 to the end of the Civil War, they still feel the responsibility to honor the treasonous conduct of the Confederacy. It doesn't seem like you can have it both ways. You can't honor the past and not take responsibility for it."

Mullis said he has been working on the bill for several months - long before lawmakers and civil rights groups asked for the apology.

Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) has said he plans to file a resolution on Monday that will call on the state to recognize slavery and work toward reconciliation.

The request for an apology, so far, has received a cool reception by the state's Republican leadership.

Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown (D-Macon) said Thursday that he does not want the bill to distract lawmakers from pressing matters such as funding the state's indigent defense system and PeachCare, the state's health insurance plan for the children of working-class families.

"I don't regard this as a substantive issue," Brown said.

"It doesn't make anyone do anything nor does it take anything away. It's symbolic, and it diverts us from the real issues we need to be focused on."

Senate Bill 283, if approved by the Senate and the House, would encourage Georgians each April to honor the Confederacy, its history, soldiers and the people who "contributed to the cause of Southern Independence."

"There's a great deal of significance in all of the history of Georgia that goes all the way back to the Oglethorpe colony," said Jeff Davis, 77, chairman of the Georgia Heritage Council.

"The War Between the States was a tremendous part of Georgia history. That all needs to be remembered. We're not trying to eliminate anything else. We just want a fair share."

The bill also encourages the Georgia Civil War Commission to develop a curriculum to teach Georgia's Confederate history in elementary and high schools, as well as colleges and universities.

Reginald Bohannon, 46, of College Park said that he has no problem with a curriculum that teaches state Confederate history in schools - as long as the lessons include both the good and bad parts of history.

"Yes, teach how Georgia had the second-most Civil War sites," Bohannon said. "But also teach that Georgia was on the wrong side of black people's freedom. Teach how some Georgians were Christians, yet condoned lynching, murder and Jim Crow."

The next step for the bill is for the Senate Rules Committee to decide if and when the proposal should come up for a vote by the full Senate.

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