Georgia governor signed Jim Crow-style voting legislation beneath painting of notorious plantation

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia's stifling election bill into law beneath a symbol of white supremacist oppression.

The new law, which many have compared to voter suppression tactics imposed during the Jim Crow era, grants state officials new powers over local elections boards and limits access to the polls for many voters, and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch pointed out the racist symbolism in photos of Kemp signing the legislation.

"Notice the antebellum-style portrait behind Kemp as he signs the suppression law?" Bunch tweeted. "Thanks to Twitter crowdsourcing and particularly @TheSeaFarmer, I can report the measure to limit Black voting was signed under the image of a notorious slave plantation in Wilkes County, GA."

The painting by Siberia-born artist Olessia Maximenko depicts the plantation, which exists today as a 56-acre historic site where tourists can get "a glimpse into the by-gone era of working plantations in the agricultural South," but promotional materials put a cheery face on its grim history.

"The promotional sites gloss over the fact that by the time of the Civil War, the Callaway Plantation only thrived because of the back-breaking labor of more than 100 slaves who were held in cruel human bondage," Bunch wrote.

The harsh reality of slave life is recounted in an oral history from Mariah Callaway, who was born into bondage at the plantation in 1852 and recalls the jail where the plantation owner kept "unruly" slaves and the hounds that bit escaped slaves -- but modern-day visitors barely catch a glimpse of such historic inhumanity.

"Callaway Plantation is a monument to Georgia's history of brutal white supremacy that unfortunately didn't disappear when Mariah Callaway and the other slaves were emancipated in 1865," Bunch wrote.

Georgia's white ruling class enacted a series of laws in the 1890s establishing Jim Crow restrictions on emancipated slaves and their descendants, and those limits on civil rights have continued throughout the decades since -- including the voter purge Kemp carried out in 2018 to ensure his victory in the gubernatorial race.

"The irony of Kemp signing this bill -- that makes it illegal to give water to voters waiting on the sometimes 10-hour lines that state policies create in mostly Black precincts -- under the image of a brutal slave plantation is almost too much to bear," Bunch wrote.

"The symbolism is no accident," he added. "Brian Kemp and his white henchmen have created an image for our times, in working to continue a tradition of inhumanity and white supremacy that now spans centuries, from the human bondage that took place behind the placid scenery of Brickhouse Road in Wilkes County, to the suppression now hidden behind a phony facade of 'voter integrity.' This legacy is a crime against humanity, and it cannot stand."