The state flag issue might be over, but a similar battle between Southern heritage rights and charges of racism rekindled Tuesday night in Columbia County.
Before the county's Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to proclaim April Confederate History Month, it heard impassioned arguments from black residents against the designation.
"I refuse to believe that the commission cannot realize how disrespectful it is to the African-American population of Columbia County to know that their government endorses the celebration of a society that enslaved and treated our ancestors as animals of property," said Keith Moses, who has lived in the county for 17 years.
County officials looked into issuing the proclamation after a request from the county's Sons of Confederate Veterans group.
Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith said that, while researching the month's history, he found that surrounding counties and the state also recognize the month, which marks the end of the Civil War for Georgia.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has signed similar proclamations for the month and April 26, designating it Confederate Memorial Day.
The state House and Senate are both considering bills to permanently designate April as Confederate History and Heritage Month. The Senate version is co-sponsored by Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling.
John Partridge, who brought the proclamation request to the county, told commissioners that the purpose was to increase awareness of the county's role in the Civil War. He said that 500 of the county's men, or one-third of those suitable for service, fought.
"Our purpose is not to have a month of celebration but rather a time to encourage our citizens to study the history of the war and the part that Columbia County played in that war," Mr. Partridge said. "History books written today gloss over this period in our nation's history."
After the commission voted in favor of the proclamation, about a dozen of those in opposition of the move met outside and gathered in an impromptu prayer circle.
"Plant within not only our hearts but within the hearts of others, the capability to forgive," said George Edwards, a Lincoln County pastor and Columbia County resident.
Gary Edwards, no relation to the reverend, said he was disappointed in the commission's endorsement for the month.
"This is like having an open wound, and instead of letting it heal, they're pouring salt in it," he said.
Minutes later, Commission Chairman Ron Cross handed the proclamation to Mr. Partridge.
"I would like for all here to know that it is not the intent of this commission to do anything that disrespects any single individual or any group of individuals in Columbia County," he said. "But we as a commission feel that we have an obligation to represent as much of the population as we can and certainly to honor those and their ancestors in an event that was not pleasing to many."
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.