What began as harmless reminiscing of their differences back when they were serving as city officials together quickly escalated when Johnson reminded McCord of a conversation he said they once had about race.
“I told you at that time that there were white folks, and there were black folks when I was growing up,” Johnson said, speaking to McCord from the podium. “There was white trash — my family — and there was n—–town. I lived next to n—–town.”
The comment immediately caught McCord off guard, while the other board members sat quietly.
“You lived next to what town?” he asked Johnson.
And Johnson’s matter-of-fact reply: “N—–town, son. I’m telling you son, now that changed. I’m no longer white trash … ”
“Hold on a second,” McCord interrupted.
In the next few minutes, as shown in a public video of the meeting, an agitated McCord tried to express his frustration, while the board’s chairman, Douglas Hollberg, stopped him so Johnson can keep talking.
“Mr. McCord, please let him get to the point so we can move on,” Hollberg said.
To which McCord, with his voice raised, said:
He can get to his point, but I’m not going to sit here … Maybe y’all are comfortable with it, I don’t know. I’m not going to sit here and let this man use that type of language. And if nobody else is offended, then I am. Now if y’all want to clap and think that that’s okay for this gentleman to stand, in 2018, and get here at the board of city commission meeting — 2018 — the Civil War is over and he is using the n-word not once, not twice — three times! And he just continues to say it with not one word about who it offends.
At that point, Hollberg asked Johnson to refrain from using the racial slur. Johnson then went on to talk about the Confederacy, why he supports the Confederate flag, the Civil War and his Scottish heritage.
“My skin is white, my neck is red, and I was born in Southern bed,” he said. “Nothing wrong with that. I hope that doesn’t offend anybody.”
He also apologized to McCord, and before leaving the podium, reiterated an earlier argument that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery.
Responding to the use of the offensive slur, the next speaker who addressed the board said the lack of respect she had just witnessed does not represent the city she made her home just a year ago.
“So I propose that we have a list of words that can and cannot be used here at the commission meeting,” Bonnie Moret told the board. “Because if I stood up here and used a four-letter word that began with an “f” and ended with a “k,” everybody would be offended. So I think there should be a decorum from everyone … just respect other people. Thank you.”
Earlier during the meeting held last week, the board declared April as Confederate History Month and April 26 as Confederate Memorial Day for the city. In 1861, Georgia seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, which the declaration described as a fight for “states’ rights, individual freedom, and local government control.” Georgia became the last Confederate state to be readmitted to the Union in 1870, several years after the Civil War ended.
McCord decried the proclamation, saying it sends a message that the city is “willing to offend” its black residents to “make other people feel good.”
“A proclamation to these very anti-Americans who did not want to be a part of America and now were are going to celebrate — that is the most un-American thing that I’ve ever heard,” he said.
Those who supported the proclamation said the objections were based on misinformation and argued that the Confederacy was about heritage, not about racism, slavery or hate. But many historians reject the notion that the war had nothing to do with slavery.
“In 1861, they were very clear on what the causes of the war were. The reason there was no compromise possible was that people in the country could not agree over the wisdom of the continued and expanding enslavement of millions of African Americans,” Stephanie McCurry, a history professor at Columbia University, told The Washington Post’s Philip Bump last year.