Georgia lawmaker says people have been ‘brainwashed’ about slavery

The Gist: A Georgia lawmaker sparked controversy after remarks he made Thursday night on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Lawmakers” show.

The Players: Northwest Georgia state representative Tommy Benton was on “Lawmakers” debating Rep. Al Williams on a measure to replace a statue of the Vice-President of the Confederacy that sits at the U.S. Capitol with a statue of Civil Rights icon John Lewis. Benton is a Republican and Williams is a Democrat.

The Quote: Benton, who was defending the statue of Confederate Vice-President Alexander Hamilton Stephens, was asked what he thought about the fact that some people are offended by confederate statues and monuments. Here are his comments:

“I don’t know why they’re offended if they would read a little history they might find out something about these people… but they’ve been, for lack of a better term, brainwashed as to what these people stood for.”

A Word About Statues: At issue here are Georgia’s statues in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. The Capitol’s Statuary Hall consists of two statues from each state. Georgia’s other statue in the hall is of Crawford W. Long. Each state determines which statues are located in the hall.

Stephens was born in Taliaferro County in 1812 and served as the vice-president of the Confederacy. After the Civil War, he was elected to the House of Representatives and served as Governor of Georgia.

The Reaction: Georgia’s expressed outrage on Twitter over Benton’s remarks. Below is a sampling of the response with included video from the segment on “Lawmakers.”

More About Tommy Benton: This is not the first time Benton has found himself at the center of controversy for remarks relating to John Lewis or for defending slavery in the South.

After Lewis’ death, Benton was removed from his state House leadership position after saying of Lewis “His only claim to fame is that he got conked on the head at the [Edmund] Pettus Bridge, and he has milked that for fifty years – or he milked it for fifty years.”

In 2017, Benton lost another leadership position after he distributed an article promoting the idea that slavery wasn’t the true cause of the Civil War.

According to Benton’s bio, the lawmaker was a middle school history teacher and a member of the NRA, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Military Order of the Stars and Bars, the Sons of the American Revolution and the Jackson County Historical Society.

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting statements by public officials called The Public Record, where we present recent quotes by public officials or candidates. You may not be able to attend every public meeting or see every occasion where your representative speak, but you still have a right to know what your representatives and those who hope to represent you have been saying.

“Because public men and women are amenable ‘at all times’ to the people, they must conduct the public’s business out in the open.” -Charles L. Weltner Sr., former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court

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