History of Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, Inc.
There have been one hundred African-American State Representatives and thirty African-American State Senators who have served in the Georgia General Assembly between 1963 and 2005. Their service and commitment to the principles and ideals of the Civil Rights Movement have been fully demonstrated in their legislative activities and community outreach. As a collective, the high standards they have set, and the quality of their service has brought about an evolution in the progress of those they represent. While the struggle to maintain civil rights continues, the battle to acquire “economic parity and justice” is crystallizing so that those who now have rights may enjoy them in all segments of society. The struggle for civil rights, defined as equality of opportunity and equal justice under the law, has been the basis for a great deal of legislative activity among the members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus during the past 42 years. From the beginning, African-American legislators have focused on issues which impact the day-to-day lives of their constituents and that open doors for increased African-American leadership and economic opportunities, as well as, the pursuit of meaningful symbolic issues. The legislator who desegregated the Georgia General Assembly was Senator Le Roy Johnson when he won his state Senate seat in 1961. Senator Leroy Johnson has long been regarded as one of Georgia’s most powerful. Senator Johnson was also the first African-American to be elected to a political office in the Southeast. During his tenure which lasted until 1974, Senator Johnson revised the literacy test for voting rights, making voting more accessible to all citizens of Georgia. Though he encountered many obstacles during his tenure in Georgia’s Senate, he won the respect of his colleagues and the citizens of Georgia with his extraordinary work ethic and tenacity during his years of service to our state, to the extent that in 1969 he became the first African-American to be named chairman of a standing committee in the General Assembly. Further denoting his service, a Senate Resolution was unanimously passed in 1995 authorizing the permanent display of his portrait in the halls of the Capitol.
Grace Towns Hamilton
Grace Towns Hamilton was the first African American woman to be elected to the Georgia Legislature, and was the first African-American elected to Georgia’s Senate since Reconstruction. In 1965 Representative Grace Towns Hamilton became the first African-American female to be elected to the Georgia Legislature, and served 18 years. She sponsored legislation that effectively increased minority representation on both the Atlanta City Council and the Fulton County Commission, ultimately paving the way for the election of the first African-American mayor of Atlanta.
Representative Benjamin D. Brown, who served the Legislature from 1965 to 1977, was the first Chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. In 1974, he sponsored the original legislation creating the Georgia Residential Finance Authority (GRFA). As the Caucus chairman, Representative Benjamin Brown communicated to the Governor and the General Assembly, the Caucus’ positions relating to aid to families with dependent children, fair housing policies, state employment practices, and the creation of a Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday holiday. In time, Caucus members sponsored successful legislation addressing each of these issues. Caucus initiatives often require years of skillful negotiating before they gather the needed support. In 1978 Caucus member Representative Julius C. Daughtery (1965 – 1986), successfully sponsored the original legislation to establish the Georgia Office of Fair Employment Practices. The passage of this legislation resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of African Americans working for Georgia state government. Later, Representatives Tyrone Brooks (1981 – present) and Representative J.E. “Billy” McKinney (1973 – 2002), seeking to strengthen this law, amended the enabling legislation through the passage of the Georgia Equal Opportunity Act of 1991, and changed the agency’s name to the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity. Throughout the years, African-American legislators have consistently supported bills, which have had significant, positive ramifications for the State as a whole. In the late 1970s, Representative Douglas Dean (1974 – 1980 &1996 – present) sponsored an anti-bid rigging bill. In the early 1980s, Representative Henrietta Canty (1975 – 1980 & 1991 – 1998) sponsored successful legislation, which established Georgia’s first fair housing act. Later in 1992 Senator Sanford Bishop (Representative 1977 – 1990 /Senator 1991 – 1992), who presently serves as Georgia’s District 2 Congressman, sponsored amendments to Georgia’s Fair Housing Act, which brought it into compliance with Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Acts of 1968.
Representative Calvin Smyre, (1975 – present), sponsored House Bill 303 in 1991 which increased the amount of money that recipients of unemployment benefits could earn without reducing their benefit amount. Representative Smyre in subsequent years served as chairman of the legislature’s most powerful committee’s, the House Rules Committee. Representative Brooks has often been referred to as “Mr. Civil Rights” in Georgia Legislature for his extensive labors at the forefront of many pieces of civil rights oriented legislation. In 1983, he authored the first Georgia anti Ku Klux legislation since the 1940s. This legislation created a special Antiterrorism Task Force within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to tract the activities of individuals and group who are known to violate the civil rights of others. In 1988, Representative Brooks was one of lead plaintiffs, including Senator Diana Harvey Johnson, (Representative 1975 -1983/Senator 1983 – 1999) and Representative Robert “Bob” Holmes (1975 – present), Billy McKinney, Representative John White (1983 – 1998), Representative Mary Young Cummings (1983 – 1992) and Representative LaNett Stanley Turner (1987 – present) who filed suit under the federal Voting Rights Act against the state of Georgia in an effort to forces changes that would result in the appointment of more African American Superior Court Judges. Representative Brooks introduced the civil rights legislation with established the Positive Employment and Community Help Program (PEACH) to train women receiving public assistance for jobs, ultimately placing them in the workforce. African-American legislators have been responsible for measures that were important because they impacted the economic condition of so many citizens. Representative Michael Thurmond (1987 – 1992), who is presently Georgia’s Labor Commissioner – one of the first African-Americans to be elected to a statewide non-judicial office – sponsored a bill, which gives taxpayers earning $ 20,000 or less each year a tax credit. The tax credit affected almost 60 percent of Georgia’s population when it became law in 1991. In more recent years, Representative William Randall (1975 – 1999), who presently serves as the elected Chief of Civil & Magistrate Court of Bibb County, authored legislation, which provided regulations for interest rates, repossessions and reinstatements in ” Rent -to-Own” and “Title Pawn” businesses. This legislation placed controls on runaway interest rates that had become synonymous with these types of businesses and offered protection for consumers from harsh repossession practices. Representative Grace Davis (1987 – 1996) successfully sponsored a bill, which resulted in preventing hundreds of low-income homeowners from losing their homes. These bills, which received national recognition and became a model for Congressional legislation, placed controls on the mortgage refinance practices of many companies. In 1993, Senator David Scott (Representative 1974 -1982 /Senator 1982 – 2002), who presently serves as Georgia’s District 13 Congressman, sponsored Senate Bill 105, which placed a cap on the interest that “lenders of second-equity no purchase mortgages” could charge. Senator Vincent Fort (1995 – present) and Representative Virgil Fludd (2003 – present) co-managed the GLBC efforts through successful legislation to stem the impact of predatory lending primarily among the Caucuses elderly and low-income constituents. As early as 1968, Representative J.D. Grier (1967 – 1968) introduced one of the first symbolic issues brought by African -American legislators. House Resolution 796 commended Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his accomplishments. In 1970, Representative Benjamin Brown and Representative William H. Alexander (1966 – 1975) introduced House Resolution 542 resolving that the House pause for a moment and recognize Dr. King’s birth in honor of his accomplishments. The first continuous holiday for Dr. King’s birth was sought in House Resolution 73, sponsored by Representatives Benjamin Brown and Julian Bond (Representative 1966 – 1973, Senator 1974 – 1986) in 1073. Between 1973 and 1984, one or more King Holiday bills were introduced to every session of the legislature by and African-American legislator. Finally in 1984, House Bill 1072, sponsored by Representative Douglas Dean and Hosea Williams (1975 -1984), passed both houses of the Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Joe Frank Harris is 1984.
The former Georgia state flag was another important symbol given its intent and history. Over the years, several members of the GLBC, such as Representative Frank Redding (1983 -1992), Billy McKinney, Vernon Jones (1993 – 2000), who presently serves as the elected Chief Executive Officer of DeKalb County and Senator Nadine Thomas (Representative 1987 – 1992/Senator 1992 – 2004), have sponsored efforts to redesign the State flag. During the 1995 sessions, Senator Ralph David Abernathy (Representative 1993 – 1994/Senator 1995 – 1998) sponsored Senate Bill 44 to redesign the flag. In 2001, Representatives Tyrone Brooks and Calvin Smyre were a part of the active coalition “Blue Flag” which changed the state flag design from the Stars and Bars to the short lived all inclusive blue flag of Governor Roy Barnes’ administration. Senator Donzella James (1995 – 2002) authored a measure to re-name Lakewood Freeway in honor of the late Senator Arthur Langford, Jr. (1985 – 1994) who passed during the 1994 Legislative Session. Economic parity has been the goal of a number of legislative efforts for more than a decade. During that time, Representative David Lucas (1975 – present) sponsored legislation, which provided tax incentives for majority contractors to subcontract with minority owned companies. In 1985, then GLBC Chairman, Representative Sanford Bishop appointed the GLBC Committee on Economic Development. Senator Charles Walker (Representative 1983 – 1990/Senator 1990 – 2002) authored a bill, which created the Small Minority Business Development Corporation (SMBDC) as an alternative financial capital resource pool for small minority entrepreneurs in the state. However, the project was never fully implemented. In 1991 Representative Robert “Bob” Holmes along with Representative John White, Representative Billy McKinney, Representative Georganna Sinkfield (1983 – present) and David Lucas sponsored House Resolution 243 calling for an economic parity study of majority versus non-majority contract letting among state agencies. The House Study Committee subsequently reported that only two percent of the state’s contracts were awarded to minority contractors, while African-Americans represent nearly 30 percent of Georgia’s population. The study promoted an Executive Order from Governor Zell Miller-similar to one that had been issued by his predecessor, former Governor Joe Frank Harris-which urged state agencies to establish programs designed to increase minority participation in the state contracting process. The measure clearly needed codifying legislation to provide the force of law. Representative Bob Holmes and Representative Joe Heckstall (1995 – present) sponsored legislation, that also provided for further minority owned business participation in state contracts. In other legislation, ultimately designed to stimulate small and minority owned business growth and development, Representatives George Brown (1983 – 1996) and Representative Bob Holmes also sponsored legislation which created county and municipal “enterprise zone” designation that give tax breaks for business development in the designated areas. During the 1995 legislative session the GLBC operated within the structure of a strategically planned Legislative Agenda, which included specific guidelines for the achievement of “Participation and Parity in Economic Development.” Representative Georgia Brown (1983 – 1996) succeeded in his efforts to establish International Trade and Technology Center at Savannah State University whose purpose was to encourage international trade development between African and African-American businesses. The center was launched with $300,000 in federal funding obtained through Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, a former Georgia Sate Representative (1989 – 1992), plus $200,000 obtained through the efforts of Governor Miller and key GLBC members of both house and Senate Appropriations Committees.
Senator Floyd Griffin (1994 – 1998) a great champion of issues in the Senate for the GLBC presently serves as the elected Mayor of the city of Milledgeville. Representative Thurbert Baker (1989 – 1998) who is presently Georgia’s Attorney General – one of the first African-Americans to be elected to a statewide non-judicial office – As Governor Miller’s Assistant Administrative Floor Leader, lead the effort to enact the HOPE Scholarship, Georgia’s “Two Strikes and You’re Out” law and tougher sentences for drunk drivers. The GLBC’s concern for quality of life issues of health, child safety, family well- fare and criminal victims are reflected in part. Senator Nadine Thomas’s successful bill, which required delivering, mothers a hospital stay of at least 72 hours. Senator Thomas child safety and protection bill followed the tragic death of Terrell Peterson. Representative “Able” Mable Thomas (1985 – 1992 & 2003 – present) in 1992 authored House Bill 1427, the mammography, pap smear and prostrate examination bill mandating insurance coverage for these medical procedures. Senator Vincent Fort’s hate crime bill of 2002 added give years to the sentence of perpetrators whose crimes included hate of a victim based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, or sexual preferences. Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas in 1989 passed House Bill229, the Raped Shield Bill that required rape cases to be on its merits rather than the victims past sexual history. Representative Barbara J. Mobley (1993 – 2004) who now serves as a State Court Judge in DeKalb County sponsored a bill in 1996 that ended common law marriages and required partners to undergo a blood test before being married. Representative Billy Mitchell became the first freshman legislator to become an officer of the GLBC when he was elected secretary in 2003. Representative Mitchell also sponsored legislation that year on behalf of Secretary of State Cathy Cox, which allowed voters to “Early Vote” at their local election offices up to a week in advance of Election Day.
In 2004, the GLBC Historical and Archival project was initiated. The official comprehensive historical records of the caucus will be housed with the Secretary of State Archives in Jonesboro, Georgia. Individual GLBC Members are invited to catalog and donate their personal legislative papers to the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History under the leadership of Senator Ed Harbison.
Another leading member in the history of the GLBC is Representative Stan Watson of Decatur, Georgia. Elected to DeKalb’s 91st district seat in 1997, Representative Watson has worked tirelessly for his district, and collaboratively with minority and majority segments of the state. Two major pieces of legislation that Representative Watson introduced was HB 1243 and HB 369. HB 1243 was a bill to amend Article 2 of Chapter 5 of Title 16 of Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to assault and battery, so as to provide that any person who commits the offense of simple assault, simple battery, or battery against a sports official while such sports official is officiating an amateur contest or while such sports official is on or exiting the property where he or she will officiate or has completed officiating an amateur contest shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished for misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature; and for other purposes. Representative Watson did not stop there he went on and passed HB 369 relating to procedures regarding new trials, so as to provide for extraordinary motions for new trials based on newly discovered evidence regarding paternity of a child; to provide requirements for filing such a motion; to provide that relief or such motion shall be granted if genetic testing conclusively shows that the alleged father is not the natural father of the child and if the alleged father has not adopted the child and if the child was not conceived by artificial insemination.
In 2010, GLBC Chairman, Senator Emanuel Jones, introduced SB299 which was a victory for Georgia school children across the state; the bill provided legislation to curb the abuse of zero tolerance discipline policies. Jones introduced Senate Bill 299 after a 14-year-old Morgan County student was arrested for voluntarily turning in a fishing knife to his principal late last year. The bill makes allowances for students who commit infractions without any intent to harm others. The legislation changed Georgia’s juvenile criminal code to make a first offense equal to a delinquent act, rather than a designated felony. Now, when a student commits an infraction, juvenile court judges can take the circumstances into account before automatically prosecuting them, giving the judges more discretion. Without a single no vote, the bill received unanimous passage in both the Senate and House before being sent to the governor for his consideration.
2017 – 2018 GLBC Historian is Representative Winfred Dukes