Black elected officials rally in Macon

jgaines@macon.comOctober 26, 2012 

Emily Davis, a Baldwin County commissioner, joined about three dozen others for a cup of punch and a small plate of snacks Friday evening in the lobby of Macon City Hall, milling and chatting.

But Davis and the others didn’t come for the atmosphere, enlivened as it was by the Central High School String Ensemble. They were all there to open the fall conference of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, held this weekend in Macon.

“I’ve been coming to the conference for years, even before I was an elected official,” she said. Both of her parents held the District 1 commission seat for which she’s seeking re-election, so she’s been a GABEO associate member for a long time, and always values the meetings.

“It’s a good way to network and learn things that are gong on in other communities,” Davis said. “You may find a bright idea and take something back to your community.”

That’s one of the meeting’s main purposes, said Macon Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, GABEO vice president and co-organizer of the conference with Councilman Henry Ficklin, the group’s treasurer.

Lucas said GABEO formed more than 40 years ago, when large numbers of black elected officials took office in Georgia for the first time since Reconstruction. Those new officials needed training and to find mentors, she said.

But the conference, much of which will be held Saturday at Mount Olive Baptist Church, 957 Oglethorpe St., features much for the general public as well, Davis said.

“I would love for everyone to just come out, listen, take in some of the seminars we’re going to be having tomorrow,” she said.

Starting with an 8 a.m. registration session and prayer breakfast, the day will include a 10 a.m. forum to which all current candidates for public office are invited.

Several famous figures will speak at a noon luncheon: civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Lowery, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Chairman Bernard Lafayette and CEO Charles Steele, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta.

Tattnall Square Park will be the scene of a get-out-the-vote rally at 2 p.m., again with many noted speakers. The conference will close with a worship service at Mount Olive Baptist Church at 11 a.m. Sunday.

The public is welcome to register for the conference, Lucas said. Full price for the weekend is $150, but many “scholarships” will be available that let people attend for free, she said.

GABEO has a paid membership of about 300, and generally 100 to 200 of those attend gatherings, Lucas said. That leaves plenty of paid space for others, especially students and people over age 65, she said.

“We will absolutely award scholarships to them,” Lucas said.

The conference’s first event was a seminar, held before the reception, on how to oppose the Ku Klux Klan’s attempt to adopt a highway in Union County. The International Keystone Knights of the KKK applied early this year to pick up litter along Route 515, near Blairsville. The Georgia Department of Transportation board denied them, and the Klan sued.

GABEO President Tyrone Brooks said a petition to dismiss the case went before a Fulton County judge this week. He commended GDOT for opposing the Klan’s application.

Brooks said he defends the Klan’s right to express itself in public and on private property, but distinguished that from the state’s role in deciding who can manage highway cleanup.

“You do have a right to protect the public’s interest, in terms of protecting your public properties from known terrorist groups,” he said. “Suppose al-Qaida says ‘We want to adopt Ground Zero and keep it clean.”

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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