Members of a federal labor union are demanding a formal, public apology from a Georgia Republican after discovering a 19th century book promoting racist, Confederate ideology displayed in his office.
Six members of the American Federation of Government Employees visited the Washington office of Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) on Monday, where they spotted the book “General Robert Edward Lee: Soldier, Citizen and Christian Patriot” opened to a passage they described as “racially offensive,” according to CNN.
The book, published in 1897, featured a passage that read: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they’re undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare and lead them to better things.”
Octavius Miller, a union member who works for the Transportation Security Administration, was among those waiting to meet with Ferguson at his Capitol office. Out in the reception area, Miller said he noticed the book in a glass case and was shocked by what he read.
“The fact that this passage feels that me and my ancestors of color are immeasurably better off in the United States of America being slaves than we were in Africa, that is so disrespectful,” he told CNN. “My first reaction was to flip this little case upside down, and I had to think about why I was there, what I do for a living, but the disrespect and the inattention to everything that people who are colored like myself and the pigmentation of my skin had to deal with … it enraged me.”
Union members had stopped by Ferguson’s office to discuss TSA workers’ rights as part of a legislative conference the organization arranges each year. Miller said he decided to snap photos of the book because he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and later shared them with CNN.
Shekina Givens, a union local president, asked one of Ferguson’s staffers about the book and if they knew it was on display. Givens said the staffer told her they were unaware of the book or passage visitors cited, but said there was a section of George Washington‘s hair on display in the office.
Ferguson, who was in dentistry before becoming Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District representative, is Miller’s congressman. A scheduling mix-up prevented union members from meeting with him on Monday, however, that didn’t stop the group from contacting Ferguson’s office later on and asking that the book be removed.
The union is also seeking an apology from the GOP congressman.
Ferguson’s chief of staff, Bobby Sararow, reached out to Miller on Tuesday to apologize and say that the book had been taken down.
“He said he wasn’t aware the book was there. He apologized maybe 15 times on the phone,” Miller said. “It seemed as if they just said what was necessary to try to mitigate the situation.”
Still, the union said it wants an apology from Ferguson himself. In a statement, National President J. David Cox Sr. expressed frustration over the entire incident.
“Congressman Ferguson needs to take accountability for what is displayed and presented in his taxpayer-funded office,” Cox 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 any more apologies about the book and said he had since spoken with Miller.
“We’ve already done that,” he told the outlet. “I think we’re good.”
Ferguson added that he was “as offended by the remarks in that book as anybody would be and that’s why it’s no longer in the office,” but argued, “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.”
It’s still unclear who decided to display the book or why that particular page was chosen.
Watch more in the video below.