After being asked by black leaders to apologize for Georgia's role in slavery, the state Senate instead moved forward with a bill designating April as Confederate Heritage and History Month.
Illustration of the Civil War Battle of Chickamauga, Ga., from Harper's Weekly. (SonoftheSouth.net)
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said his proposal is not a reaction to a call by the Georgia state conference of the NAACP for the legislature to follow Virginia's example. Virginia's General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in February atoning for "involuntary servitude of Africans" and calling for reconciliation among all Virginians.
Georgia's Republican governor, Sonny Perdue, said he was skeptical about his state following Virginia's lead in apologizing for slavery. "Repentance comes from the heart," he said, according to the Associated Press. "I'm not sure about public apologies ... as far as the motivation for them."
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, also a Republican, broke ranks with Perdue, saying he would support the effort to acknowledge the state's role in slavery, which has biracial and bipartisan support. A top Republican leader, Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said he would introduce such an apology, increasing its chance of passage.
In the meantime, the Senate Rules committee on Monday voted unanimously to send SB 283, setting aside each April "to honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause of Southern Independence…."
Mullis' district is home to Chickamauga Battlefield, scene of the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War in September 1863. Mullis said he introduced the bill as a favor to John Culpepper, commissioner of the Georgia Civil War Commission and a personal friend, and because he believes children need to know the state's history.
His proposal encourages the Civil War Commission to develop curriculum for elementary and high schools about Georgia's Confederate heritage.
Mullis told the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., he filed his bill before the NAACP made their demand for an apology, and the timing made it more controversial. He said he is open to having "reconciliation language" added to the bill but not an apology.
"If I had done something personally, yes, I would apologize," he told the Associated Press.
Sen. Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta), an African-American, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the timing of Mullis' proposal is troublesome.
"I think that in light of the conversation we've been having about Georgia accepting responsibility for its history as it relates to slavery, this is not appropriate," Reed said. "If we're not going to address that issue in a candid way, I find it inappropriate to be passing a measure such as this."
Reed also said he is disappointed that lawmakers have not yet approved a proposal to hang a portrait of civil rights figure Coretta Scott King in the state Capitol.
Several Southern states observe Confederate Heritage and History Month in some form. April is the month the War Between the States both began in 1861 and ended in 1865. Georgia already celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on April 26.
The Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is working in all 159 counties in the state requesting proclamations by county commissions.
Mullis said his measure would help promote tourism in the state. State officials are already working on plans to promote tourism for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2011.
This year marks the 145th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, an 1883 executive order by President Abraham Lincoln declaring freedom for slaves in confederate states.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.