I got to thinking about the State of Georgia a few weeks ago when the Atlanta City Fathers proudly announced the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. It is right there in Atlanta next to the Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.
Martin Luther King grew up in Atlanta and his life and other achievements of the Civil Rights Movement are celebrated in this new institution.
Georgia takes pride in its attraction to outside visitors – it ranks third in the nation in tourism. Tourism is the 5th largest employer in the state with an annual economic impact of $53.6 billion, including $2.8 billion in direct and indirect tax revenues.
Surely the opening of the new Center will burnish Georgia’s reputation and add an additional attraction for tourists. Folks like me, whose lives have been so influenced by the Civil Rights Movement might just want to pay it a visit.
But I could not stop thinking that these folks, who project to the world the image of a refurbished, modern part of the “New South,” live in the Capitol of a state that refuses to expand Medicaid.
Georgia has one of the worst rates of uninsured consumers in the country – 22 percent. Depending on your year and your source, they rank either fifth or sixth highest in the nation in the number of uninsured. Some 650,000 Georgians would be eligible for Medicaid were the state to accept expansion.
Rural hospitals in Georgia are closing because of the impact of emergency room treatment being sought by their rural poor.
But expand they won’t. As soon as Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who has been no fan of the Affordable Care Act, suggested that he would be open to expanding Medicaid, the Republican Legislature slammed the door shut. They passed a law that would effectively ban the governor from acting to accept the expansion.
They then went one further by passing another bill banning government employees from advocating for expansion or creating health exchanges. It also barred the University of Georgia from participating in the ACA navigator program.
A little deeper look into the characteristics of the uninsured helps us understand what is going on here. The uninsured rate among whites is 16 percent, blacks 24 percent, Hispanics 43 percent, and a group called “other” 23 percent. The size of Georgia’s black population ties Texas and Florida at just over 3 million.
Just a few minutes from downtown Atlanta there is a popular theme park known as Stone Mountain. This park is one of the reasons why Atlanta’s tourism industry thrives. It is Georgia’s biggest tourist draw with 4 million visitors a year.
The park’s web site shows a couple of black kids cavorting with white kids in a dance led by a Native American. It makes no mention that Stone Mountain is the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan. The KKK came together at Stone Mountain in 1915 following an Anti-Semitic lynching in Marietta and the inspiration of D. W. Griffith’s movie Birth of a Nation.
The area is dominated by a big hill that is solid quartz. It claims the “biggest bas relief” in the world – a carving of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson – the Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy. In fact, the carving was begun in 1923 under the auspices by the United Daughters of the Confederacy by Gutzon Botglum before he decamped in 1925, eventually ending up in the Black Hills where he organized the carving of Mount Rushmore. Botglum was affiliated with the KKK.
There is a deep vein of racism in the quartz of Stone Mountain. Call me sentimental, but I find that same vein running through both Georgia State politics and the statistics about uninsured folks in Georgia. We need to think more about how we as a nation can tolerate this treatment of our fellow citizens when race seems to play such an important part in decisions like Medicaid expansion.