The governor of Georgia signed a regulation suppressing voters beneath the portray of a slave plantation

Sometimes America’s legacy of white supremacy is literally hidden in view. When Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a hastily-passed voter suppression law Thursday night, which many call the new Jim Crow, surrounded by half a dozen white men, he did so in front of a painting of a plantation on which more than 100 blacks had been enslaved.

The appropriate symbolism is somehow both shocking and unsurprising. Using the antebellum image of the infamous Callaway Plantation – a region where enslaved blacks in search of freedom were hunted with dogs – in Wilkes County, Georgia, as the backdrop for a bill signing it became one Handing water to one would make a crime The GOP governor, who waited on Georgia’s sometimes hour-long voting lines, sent a clear message about race and human rights in the American South.

The plantation portrait was the strongest reminder of Georgia’s history of white racism, spanning slavery, Jim Crow segregation, the rebirth of the modern Ku Klux Klan, and today’s voter purges against black and brown voters – but it wasn’t that only one . The moment Kemp signed the bill with his all-white group, a black Georgia lawmaker – Rep. Park Cannon – who had knocked on the governor’s door in hopes of watching the bill be signed became instead dragged away and arrested by state troops in a scene where probably yesterday’s racist sheriffs of the deep south like Bull Connor or Jim Clark smiled in a fiery hellhole they now live in.

In fact, Twitter was on fire Thursday night, and posters drew the straight line from infamous former segregationists like George Wallace to the actions of Kemp and the GOP-led Georgian legislature in 2021 by putting – with great speed and little debate – a Lengthy bill passed restricts easily accessible dropboxes for ballot papers and places onerous badge restrictions on postal voting that the New York Times reports “will have an overwhelming effect on black voters.”

On one level, this new voter suppression act – “voter integrity” in the Orwellian branding of the modern GOP – is inspired by the current and possible future events of ex-President Donald Trump’s ex-lie about fraud in the 2020 election in Georgia for President Biden and two new Democratic Senators and the threat electoral icon Stacey Abrams poses to Kemp in the 2022 election. But there is also a strong retreat into Georgia’s past. That connection is clear from the story that hangs right behind Kemp on Thursday.

»READ MORE: Why Biden Needs a Prime Time Speech in the Oval Office to Declare War on Voter Suppression | Will bunch

When Kemp’s tweet about the closed-door signing ceremony went around on Thursday night, I had questions about the scene in the old south that the governor’s office had centered in the photo. Thanks to crowd-sourcing, and especially the help of my Twitter friend Brendan McGinn (@TheSeaFarmer), I learned that the Siberian painting was called “Brickhouse Road – Callaway PLNT” (PLNT for “Plantation … subtle, right?”). Born artist Olessia Maximenko now lives in the Wilkes County area of ​​east-central Georgia.

Today, Callaway Plantation is a 56-acre historic site where, as the Explore Georgia website happily notes, tourists can get “a glimpse into the bygone era of the agricultural south’s plantations.” The advertising pages gloss over the fact that the Callaway Plantation flourished during the Civil War thanks to the groundbreaking work of at least 100 enslaved people and perhaps many more kept in cruel human bondage.

The harsh reality of life for enslaved people in Wilkes County is captured in this oral “slave narrative” by Mariah Callaway, a woman born into slavery there in 1852. Despite the surname Callaway, the woman described life on a nearby plantation run by the Willis family. She claims that the enslaved people who worked in Wilkes County’s fields were largely treated well because “the life of a slave was very precious to their owners.”

However, Mariah Callaway added: “…[T]here were some slaves who were unruly; So the master built a house for himself and called it Willis Prison. Here he would keep those whom he had to punish. I knew that some slaves would run away on other plantations and the dogs would bite plugs off their legs. “

A century and a half later, it’s not clear whether the Callaway Plantation, with its large numbers of enslaved people, was one of those plantations that unleashed the dogs. Visitors to Callaway Plantation today say the legacy of human bondage is being purposely downplayed. One wrote on Trip Advisor that the slave hut is “hidden in some trees and mentioned as an afterthought and something to go to and see for yourself.”

Two modern fans of the Callaway Plantation appear to be Brian Kemp and his wife Marty, who chose the plantation for its preeminent place in the governor’s office. I know that thanks to an eagle-eyed Twitter user (@ rainlover503) who found artist Maximenko’s comment on Instagram that the couple “really loves” their art on the Callaway site.

In short, the Callaway Plantation is a memorial to Georgia’s history of brutal white supremacy that sadly did not go away when Mariah Callaway and the other enslaved people were emancipated in 1865. In the 1890s, Georgia’s white ruling class enacted a series of harsh Jim Crow laws separating all public institutions and preventing most blacks from voting. The state was a hotbed of the KKK in the civil rights era of the 1960s, and in the 1980s Georgia paved the way for the new era of mass imprisonment and voter repression embodied by Kemp and his purges of legitimate voters and others Jim Crow inspired tactics.

In 2021, it is tempting to call Kemp “ironic” as the signatory of the bill in front of the plantation painting, even though it is actually all too fitting. Understanding the symbolism here helps us understand what really matters, that the electoral law is the newest gruesome iron link in an unbroken chain of white supremacy that dates back to 1619 when the first slave ship arrived on North American soil. But familiarity shouldn’t dampen our feelings of indignation.

If you’d grown up shocked and upset by the photos of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, state troops beating John Lewis near Edmund Pettus Bridge, or police officers torturing young black protesters with fire hoses on the streets of Birmingham, what whatever you would have done then, do now to fight this new Jim Crow era today.

In Washington, it’s more imperative than just for the Senate to drop the filibuster to pass the two federal electoral laws that could potentially block or reverse suppressive efforts not just in Georgia but in a number of other GOP-led states with bills in the funnel . As for Georgia, Major League Baseball must pull out Metro Atlanta of the 2021 All-Star Game immediately, and stronger moves – including a boycott – must be on the table. This is an all hands on deck situation to save democracy and end systemic racism. Brian Kemp reminded us that, just like in Faulkner’s Mississippi, “the past is never dead. It’s not even over yet. “

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