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Georgia councilmember's 'cotton field' retort angers the NAACP; he says it wasn't 'a racial remark at all'

October 21, 2010 |  3:42 pm

The city of Warner Robins, Georgia, was recently named by BusinessWeek as one of America's "best places to raise your kids," which may be true as long as your child doesn't grow up to be a black councilman, it would seem.

A heated exchange that occurred Monday night during a meeting of the Warner Robbins City Council made national headlines when a white councilman replied to a black councilman in a way that many have deemed racist. 

Daron Lee, who is black, was upset that he was often being interrupted during meetings. He was also carrying around anger for allegedly being called "boy" in a previous meeting. When he was interrupted on Monday, Lee expressed his anger.

"I was disrespected last Monday," Lee said, looking directly at his white counterpart, John Williams, who had previously interrupted him. "I'm getting about tired of you all, talking to me any kind of way. I'm not working in a cotton field."

"You should be," Williams retorted.

"Oh, I should be?" Lee replied. "OK," he said before walking out. Lee later returned only to hear a white member of the audience, during public comment time, berate him for "setting the... city back."

"No white man can speak for a black man," Lee said. "'Boy' may not carry that much weight with you, but it's the same weight carried for many years for a black man."

Williams later said that his retort about the cotton field wasn't intended to be a racial slur since he had picked cotton himself. "I worked in a cotton field," Williams said after the meeting had adjourned. "I drug a basket many a mile. It's not a racial remark at all."

The 71-year-old Williams is no stranger to controversy. In September a tenant accused him of pointing a gun at him. In June he was accused of filing a false police report against a homeless woman for allegedly stealing his cellphone at a Waffle House (it was later found in the bushes near the restaurant). Also in June, Williams went to a man's house, blocked the driveway with his car, and peered through his window before going to the door, after the gentleman sent him an e-mail asking him to resign.

In September, a group of politicians led by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue wrote the Warner Robbins City Council to warn them that their behavior could be damaging to the good name the community has recently garnered thanks to BusinessWeek and the successful local little league teams.

"The media coverage of the Warner Robins government is not positive and will have detrimental effects on the city, her citizens and this entire state," stated the letter dated Sept. 8, 2010. In light of what went down Monday, a spokesperson for the governor admitted that the letter didn't seem to work.

A letter sent from the local NAACP President Larry Holmes to the Warner Robins mayor and council asked for Williams' resignation and invites the rest of the group to "humble themselves, and pray; turn from their wicked ways of name calling." Later the letter says, "We believe public officials who are elected by the people are to serve ALL the people without regards to color, race, or religion and are mandated to do so. Council members with problems of being touched by blacks and wishing them back into 'cotton fields' have no business serving on city council. We believe this Councilman would serve the city of Warner Robins better by resigning his position."

-- Tony Pierce