Girl Scouts join fight over bridge named for segregationist


SAVANNAH, Ga. — Lawmakers can expect face-to-face meetings with Girl Scouts from across Georgia next month at the state Capitol, where the young scouts plan on treating legislators to a milk-and-cookie reception.

These girls bearing gifts of Thin Mints and Samoas will also come packing an agenda. They want to see Savannah’s towering suspension bridge renamed in honor of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in the coastal Georgia city more than a century ago.

The Girl Scouts saw an opening last fall when Savannah’s city council formally asked state lawmakers during their 2018 session to strip the name of segregationist former Gov. Eugene Talmadge from the bridge. Georgia scouts are getting support from the Girl Scouts’ national headquarters in New York, which has hired a lobbyist to help sway lawmakers in Atlanta.

Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Savannah, is on board with the switch. He said he plans to introduce a bill on Feb. 6, when Girl Scout leaders plan to bring as many as 300 scouts to the Capitol.

“I can’t think of a name that could go on the bridge at the Savannah River that would mean more,” Stephens said of Low, though he’s not optimistic fellow lawmakers will agree if that means rescinding an honor bestowed on a former governor. “My opinion is chances of passage are slim to none.”

Since 1956, the span crossing the Savannah River at the Georgia-South Carolina line has been named for Talmadge, a populist Democrat who served three terms between 1933 and 1942. Talmadge railed against the New Deal for offering blacks hope of economic parity with whites. He defended whites-only primary elections in Georgia. And he once proclaimed a black man’s place was “at the back door with his hat in his hand.”

In September, Savannah’s city council unanimously called on the legislature to take Talmadge’s name off the bridge. Mayor Eddie DeLoach sought the change following the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, as white supremacists rallied to protect Confederate statues. DeLoach said Savannah’s bridge should “no longer be named for a man who divided us.”

By law, only Georgia lawmakers can name or rename state roads and bridges. Girl Scouts leaders say it’s an ideal chance to honor Low, who insisted Girl Scouts have a place for all girls regardless of race, religion or disabilities.

“All her life, Juliette sought to bring people together to solve problems and make the world a better place,” Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo told The Associated Press by email. “And I can’t think of a better symbol to her legacy than a bridge that connects people to others.”

Low recruited the first troop of Girl Scouts over tea at her Savannah home in March 1912. In their first year, the girls learned to cook and care for babies. But Low also taught them how to shoot rifles and tie up burglars.

While Low began with only 18 Girl Scouts, 1.8 million are enrolled today. Acevedo said scouts from across the U.S. attending an October convention embraced their Savannah colleagues’ cause. …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – News

      

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