More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, some people are still attempting to litigate the past. During a recent public hearing at the Cobb County commissioners meeting in Marietta, Georgia, one woman tried to school the board on slavery... and it didn’t end well.
The commissioners met to discuss the naming of a new park, which some in the community felt should honor General Joseph Johnston, a Confederate soldier, instead of being called Mableton’s Chattahoochee River Line Park.
Mary Stevens, a local resident, attempted to make the case for putting Johnson’s name on the park by claiming it would be “historically inaccurate” not to mention him and that the Civil War “wasn’t about slavery” at all.
“The war was not about slavery,” Stevens said at the meeting. “Read Lincoln’s inaugural address that said he was fighting to keep the Union, not slavery. Georgia was named after King George II, who approved of slavery. Should we change the name of our state? America was named after Amerigo Vespucci, who took slaves on his voyages.”
Stevens also brought some papers to the commissioners which showed that the number of free Black people increased in the south between 1790-1860 (uh, new babies anyone?), which brought her to the terrible conclusion that “had slavery been so bad for the freed slaves, they would have left the South.”
If that weren’t enough, Stevens tried to claim that more whites were enslaved in North Africa than Black Americans in the U.S. during the antebellum period and that the park should be named for the Confederate soldier because “every race throughout history has either had slaves or been slaves at one time or another.”
As Stevens rambled off historical inaccuracies about slavery, Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who happens to be a Black woman, was not pleased. Cupid suggested the board table the discussion about the name of the park until more people could weigh in.
“I recognize that there is variation with respect to the sentiment that people have to the park,” she said, noting the name the board suggested was “neutral” and did not deal with property’s historical significance in the Civil War. “But I want to make it very clear that some of the issues brought up this morning, particularly as it relates to slavery, is part of the reason why there is a desire for neutrality in the name.”
During her response, Cupid also took direct aim at Stevens’ comments:
“I was deeply offended by some of the statements that were made this morning by the previous speaker. I am not here to refute the fact that there may have been slaves other than persons who were African American, but there is numerous documentation and historical evidence that [the] chattel slavery that Blacks were subject to in America was not comparable to that of any other race,” she said.
“I also want to address the point that had it been so bad for slaves they would have left the South. I find that statement equally offensive,” she said.”I can only imagine for those that live in the area, the level of offense they might take beyond the level of offense that I just took. I appreciate varying perspective, but this is a sensitive issue which I don’t think was dealt with very sensitively by the previous speaker.”