'No accident': Georgia governor signs voting bill under slave plantation painting, sparks row

Published on Mar 27, 2021 11:06 PM IST

US President Joe Biden on Friday compared the new voting restrictions with the 19th-century law that enforced racial segregation and disenfranchised Black citizens in America’s South.

Republican Governor Brian Kemp signs new bill, a restrictive voting law that activists have said aimed to curtail the influence of Black voters.(via REUTERS)
Republican Governor Brian Kemp signs new bill, a restrictive voting law that activists have said aimed to curtail the influence of Black voters.(via REUTERS)
By | Edited by Kunal Gaurav

Amid criticism of Georgia’s new voting rules, some Twitter users have pointed to a problematic detail about a photograph of Brian Kemp, governor of the US state, in which he can be seen signing the bill into law while being surrounded by other white politicians. In a series of tweets, The Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch highlighted the details of a painting hanging behind Kemp in the photograph. Bunch said that the 98-page measure to “limit Black voting” was signed under the image of a “notorious slave plantation in Wilkes County” where more than 100 Black people had been enslaved.

Sharing a link to the ExploreGeorgia website, Bunch said that the Callaway Plantation spread in 56-acre “only thrived because of the back-breaking labor of more than 100 slaves who were held in cruel human bondage”. He said the harsh reality of life for slaves in the era of the Callaway Plantation is captured in the oral-history of Mariah Callaway, a woman who was born into slavery on the Willis plantation.

“There were some slaves who were unruly; so the master built a house off to itself and called it the Willis jail. Here he would keep those whom he had to punish. I have known some slaves to run away on other plantations and the hounds would bite plugs out of their legs,” Callaway has noted in the oral history “Slave Narrative of Mariah Callaway”.

The columnist, who later published an op-ed in The Philadephia Inquiry on the same issue, said that the symbolism of the photograph is no accident. US President Joe Biden on Friday called the sweeping voting restrictions “Jim Crow in the 21st century”, comparing it with the 19th-century law that legalised racial segregation and disenfranchised Black citizens in America’s South.

“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 that took place behind the placid scenery of Brickhouse Road in Wilkes County, to the suppression now hidden behind a phony facade of ‘voter integrity,’” tweeted Bunch.

The Election Integrity Act of 2021 empowers the state election board to interfere in the election offices of 159 counties in Georgia and imposes ID requirements for absentee ballots, replacing the earlier system that required only signatures. The law also restricts people from handing out anything, including food and water, to voters in the queue and shortens the time for runoffs in the state from nine weeks to four weeks.

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