Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) has removed from his office a biography of Robert E. Lee that was previously displayed there under a glass case and opened to a page highlighting the Confederate general’s racist ideology.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Ferguson, who occupies one of his party’s top posts in the House, blamed the book’s presence on his staff, who he said decorated his office. Ferguson said he didn’t know the book was there until members of the American Federation of Government Employees, who were visiting congressional offices on Monday, asked about it.
The book, titled “Gen. Robert Edward Lee: Soldier, Citizen, and Christian Patriot,” was opened to a page that trumpeted proslavery beliefs, reading in part, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare and lead them to better things.”
James Miller, a representative of AFGE Local 554 and one of Ferguson’s constituents, was among the group that spotted the book in his congressman’s office and said he was “at a loss for words” when he saw it.
“As a black man and constituent, I can say that nothing makes you feel more unwelcome in your own member of Congress’ office than seeing such racist memorabilia,” Miller said in a statement.
Through a spokeswoman, Ferguson, the GOP’s chief deputy whip, said “the book in question was underneath a box of military challenge coins. I did not even know it was there. When my staff learned about it, they removed it and apologized to the individual who was upset by it.”
Leaders of AFGE, the largest union representing federal workers, have demanded that Ferguson issue a more formal and public apology.
“Congressman Ferguson needs to take accountability for what is displayed and presented in his taxpayer-funded office,” J. David Cox Sr., the union’s national president, said in a statement. “This offensive book that’s opened to specific pages — and displayed in a glass case — does not haphazardly appear. Someone intentionally displayed the book and this despicable speech was intentionally placed.”
In an interview with CNN, Ferguson declined to offer further apologies, telling the outlet, “We’ve already done that. We spoke to the gentleman. I think we’re good.”
He added that he is “as offended by the remarks in that book as anybody would be and that’s why it’s no longer in the office,” but also said that “it’s a historical book of a very, very tragic time and bad time in our nation’s history. Reading things that you don’t agree with to help form an opinion is part of the learning process.”
Ferguson’s spokeswoman did not respond to questions about who specifically decided to exhibit the book in the glass case and why they chose to display that particular page.