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Leaders in Cobb County, Georgia, have delayed naming a park after a white woman testified at a county meeting that the Civil War “wasn’t about slavery” and that slavery in the South wasn’t even “so bad.” The park, which encompasses trenches and earthworks used by a Confederate general during the Civil War, has lead to a split between Cobb residents who want to choose a neutral name for the site and those who want to “honor” Gen. Joseph Johnston.
East Cobb County resident Mary Stevens spoke before the county commissioners for five minutes on June 13, 11 Alive reported, opening her comments by using census demographics to argue that “had it been so bad for the freed slaves, they would have left the South.” She went on to point out that Black people had worked in the Confederacy during the Civil War, too, and used a quote by economist Thomas Sowell to argue that other races were enslaved throughout the world as well.
Stevens went on to defend Gen. Johnston. Stevens said he didn’t have slaves and was only fighting because he was a general and trained to fight. After waxing poetic about the other lost Civil War earthworks destroyed in the ’70s and ’80s, Stevens finally said that the war was not fought over slavery.
She then questioned if the state of Georgia should be changed to divest from its namesake King George II, who approved of slavery, before being cut off for her allotted time.
Of course, Stevens’ plea to honor the Confederate general is fashioned with her version of history—that the war wasn’t fought over slavery, and even if it was, Black men got to participate, and slavery wasn’t that bad.
All of these assertions are patently false, as any sort of “states rights” or “economics” arguments taught in public school about the war still boil down to a state’s ability to allow the ownership of people. Black people were not allowed to serve in the Confederacy, and the increased population of freed Black people in both the North and South speaks nothing of the horrific conditions they endured while enslaved.
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Cobb County District 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid spoke after Stevens left her podium, stating she recognized that people felt differently about the park’s name. But she told the meeting attendees to understand that narratives such as Stevens’ (which falsely portray slavery) are why the name should be “neutral” in the first place.
“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,” Cupid said.
In a video of Stevens’ comments and Cupid’s response, Cupid is measured and sharp with her tone and inflection, presumably holding herself back from expressing emotion toward the ignorance that Stevens spewed just moments earlier. She pauses between thoughts and sentences as she rails on Stevens, her dismay shining through her concise wording before she turns off her mic.
“…’Had [slavery] been so bad for slaves they would have left the South.’ I find that statement equally offensive…I can only imagine for those that live in the area, the level of offense that they might take beyond the level of offense of which I have taken just now,” Cupid said. “Again, I appreciate there being difference of perspective, but it’s just very clear that this is a sensitive issue which I just don’t think was dealt with very sensitively by the previous speaker.”
Cupid tabled the proposal to name the park “Mableton’s Chattahoochee River Line Park” after Stevens’ comments, while people who want to “preserve” the park’s Civil War history want it named “Johnston’s River Line Park.”
Watch Stevens’ entire aimless speech below:
H/T the Root
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.