More than a hundred people filled the pews at Antioch Baptist Church on Thursday night to discuss a controversial voter photo identification law that's now before federal courts and is said by some to restrict the vote of the poor, minorities and the elderly.
"We must understand that the struggle continues," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, "This law is an effort to turn the clock back."
The act, which was enjoined by the courts in October, rendering it inoperative for the November and December elections, mandated that voters had to present government-issued photo identification to vote.
Though not the entire subject of the meeting, it came on the heels of anger at the purported comments of state Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, who sponsored the bill.
Earlier this month, newspapers reported on a leaked 51-page memorandum by the U.S. Department of Justice, where Mrs. Burmeister was quoted as saying black voters in her district don't vote unless they're paid to do so. She has denied making the statement.
The Richmond County Democratic Party and others have called for an apology by Mrs. Burmeister and for her resignation.
"An apology is not enough," said Ed Dubose, the president of the Georgia Conference of NAACP Branches. "Out of the mouth and heart, people have spoken."
"I haven't heard Gov. Sonny Perdue apologize on behalf of his party ... it's time for us to take a stand," he said.
Besides the state bill, panelists, which included officials from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Georgia League of Women Voters, the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda and the American Civil Liberties Union, also discussed the upcoming renewal of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
With the runoff election for the mayor's office less than a week away, local politics couldn't be avoided. Interim Mayor Willie Mays, who is facing a runoff against Deke Copenhaver, attended the meeting, along with other local politicians.
Gaining the longest standing ovations and loudest audience responses of the night, Mallory Millender, a professor of journalism and French at Paine College, slammed the notion that racial divisions in Augusta politics didn't exist.
"Race permeates, to this day, politics in Augusta. ... When has it not been racist?" he said.
He also attacked the editorial pages of The Augusta Chronicle over its stands regarding racial division in Augusta.
"It's very important that this entire community, especially the black community, tell The Augusta Chronicle that they don't speak for us," he said.
Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.