Griffin, Georgia, a small city about 38 miles south of Atlanta, is proud of its Southern heritage.
Every year since at least 2010, the city has passed a proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month, city commissioner Douglas Hollberg told CNN. It’s not an unusual occurrence in the South, where Confederate Memorial Day is still officially and unofficially observed in a handful of places.
But when the issue came up again at a recent Griffin city meeting, things did not go well.
A former city commissioner, speaking out as a resident in favor of the proclamation, used a racial slur three times — offending an African-American member of the commission who opposed the measure.
And now a video of the meeting, including the exchange between the two men, has blown up online — a reminder of the way racism continues to be on display in the South at a time when many places are removing Confederate memorials from public view.
Griffin’s 23,000 residents are split roughly equally between whites and blacks, according to census data.
The March 27 meeting went quickly downhill after former city commissioner Larry Johnson, who is white, got up to speak during the public comments section. Addressing his comments mostly to current city commissioner Rodney McCord, who is black, Johnson began talking about the city’s history.
“There were white folks. There were black folks when I was growing up,” Johnson said. “There was white trash — my family. There was n—–town. I lived next to n—–town.”
“You lived next to what town?” asked McCord.
“N—–town, son!” Johnson replied. “I’m telling you that I’ve changed. I’m no longer white trash. And they’re no longer called that.”
After a brief interruption by McCord and another commissioner, Johnson continued.
“Now, if that’s offensive, I apologize for being offensive,” he said. “I don’t use that word anymore.”
“You just used it,” responded McCord, one of three African Americans on the city’s seven-member commission.
Visibly upset, McCord responded a few moments later.
“Maybe y’all are comfortable with that, I don’t know,” he told the gathering. “I’m not going to sit here and let this man use that type of language. If no one else is offended, then I am.”
Earlier in the evening, and prior to the heated exchange, the city commission voted to approved the Confederate History month proclamation.
Contacted this week by CNN, McCord said he’s never experienced anything like that meeting in his 24 years in the city. He’s voted repeatedly against the Confederate History Month proclamation since he’s been a city commissioner, he added.
“I don’t understand why, in 2018, we’re still talking about the Confederates,” McCord said. “How should I, as a black person, celebrate that?”
As for Johnson, he told CNN he felt remorse about the outrage over his comments and that he was just trying to make a point about a previous time in his life.
“In doing so, I used words familiar back then,” he said. “But I was interrupted and did not get to say, ‘But we no longer use those words today and the world is a better place.'”
Johnson also said he would not personally apologize to McCord until McCord apologized for interrupting him.
Since the incident, Hollberg told CNN he’s spoken to the NAACP about Johnson’s comments.
It reads, in part: “…the month of April of each year is hereby designated as Confederate History and Heritage Month and shall be set aside to honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear from its founding …”