ATLANTA - A Georgia lawmaker on Monday defended his proposal asking House colleagues to recognize "Confederate History Month," but black lawmakers charge it glorifies a time when slavery was acceptable.
Republican Rep. Tommy Benton said his proposed resolution would honor Southern heritage. Lawmakers frequently use such resolutions to recognize individuals or occasions. Benton's proposal says April is when the Confederate states "began and ended a four-year struggle for states' rights, individual freedom, and local governmental control, which they believed to be right and just."
The measure hasn't received a hearing since Benton introduced it this month. Members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus blasted it and have urged people to contact House leadership about it.
Benton said he wasn't proposing anything new. State law still designates April as "Confederate History and Heritage Month." But he said his proposal was simply "recognition of the Southern soldier, his valor and his willingness to go and fight for something that he believed in."
He wouldn't discuss whether slavery's role in the Civil War should be mentioned in the proposal when questioned by reporters Monday.
Democratic Rep. Sandra Scott, vice chair of the legislative black caucus, said Georgians know and respect that thousands of people fought, died and were injured in the Civil War and remember them on other holidays. Scott said she doesn't think the resolution is intended to honor military service.
"This resolution is about hatred and racism," she said. "It is about glorifying a culture that found slavery acceptable."
The 2015 massacre of nine black worshippers at a South Carolina church sparked discussions nationwide about Confederate symbols and holidays. The shooter was an avowed white supremacist who posted pictures of himself with the Confederate flag in an online manifesto.
In Georgia, the conversation about such symbols has largely focused on a specialty license plate featuring two Confederate battle flags and an enormous carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and another Southern general on the side of a mountain near Atlanta.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal also quietly renamed Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee's birthday as vague state holidays in 2015.
Benton filed several measures last year on Confederate history, seeking formal recognition of the two holidays. In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the issue, Benton said the Ku Klux Klan wasn't racist but was "a vigilante thing to keep law and order." House and Senate members quickly disavowed the comments and Benton withdrew several measures on Confederate history.