Story at a glance
- Months after a historic election in Georgia, the state passed legislation giving lawmakers more control over elections and imposing new voting restrictions.
- The legislation was signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp under a painting of a former slave plantation.
- Online, the history of the plantation and its symbolism came under scrutiny.
Internet sleuths dug up ties to slavery in the history of a painting under which Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a bill imposing new voting restrictions that critics say would disenfranchise the state's Black voters.
The law gives state lawmakers more power over elections and imposes new voting restrictions that have been challenged in court by voting rights groups, which say the changes will disproportionately affect the ability of Black voters and other minority groups.
Will Bunch, author and opinion columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, tweeted out the finding and the history of the portrait, "Brickhouse Road -- Callaway [Plantation],” claiming "the symbolism is no accident."
2. Notice the antebellum-style portrait behind Kemp as he signs the suppression law? Thanks to Twitter crowdsourcing and particularly @TheSeaFarmer, I can report the measure to limit Black voting was signed under the image of a notorious slave plantation in Wilkes County, GA— Will Bunch Sign Up For My Newsletter (@Will_Bunch) March 26, 2021
“Brian Kemp and his white henchmen have created an image for our times, in working to continue a tradition of inhumanity and white supremacy that now spans centuries, from the human bondage hat took place behind the placid scenery of Brickhouse Road in Wilkes County, to the suppression now hidden behind a phony facade of ‘voter integrity.’ This legacy is a crime against humanity, and it cannot stand,” said Bunch.
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Changing America has reached out to Kemp’s office for comment.
The painting, identified in the Georgia State Capitol's exhibit guide and originally titled “Callaway Road” by artist Olessia Maximenko, appears to be of Callaway Plantation, which is listed on the state's official tourism website as a "historic restoration project" that "offers a glimpse into the by-gone era of working plantations in the agricultural South." Besides a note of the Dally Slave Cabin, one of six historical structures open to the public, the entry — and the plantation’s website — does not acknowledge the enslaved Black Americans who were forced to work that plantation.
What the plantation does offer is "the intimate story of one family's legacy," the family of Job Callaway, which gifted the property to the city of Washington. In addition to public tours, the plantation also operates as an event space for everything from movie nights to weddings, which isn’t uncommon for historic plantations. But plantation weddings have been criticized for glorifying the era of slavery in United States history and not acknowledging the violent and racist past of these plantations.
On TripAdvisor, the site has 71 overwhelmingly positive reviews, except one from last June that says, "disappointing that there was little to no acknowledgement of the 100+ slaves that worked the plantation and lived on the property." The guide apparently noted that Callaway mentioned slaves by name in his will ("apparently that was unusual to do") and documents show that after the Civil War some remained as sharecroppers.
"The Willis family was kind and religious and saw to it that their slaves were given plenty of food to eat," according to an interview with Mariah Callaway, a former slave born on the plantation under the ownership of Jim Willis, on Access Geneology that Bunch linked to in his post. But the daughter and granddaughter of slaves also recalled the violent and racist history of her ancestry.
"My grandfather came directly from Africa and I never shall forget the story he told us of how he and other natives were fooled on board a ship by the white slave traders using red handkerchiefs as enticement. When they reached America, droves of them were put on the block and sold to people all over the United States," she said.
One of those people, it appears, was the owner of the plantation depicted in the painting behind the state governor during the signing of a law governing the voting rights of the descendants of slaves.
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