SAVANNAH, Ga. — Jan 13, 2018, 2:59 PM ET

Girl Scouts join fight over bridge named for segregationist

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Lawmakers can expect face-to-face meetings with Girl Scouts from across Georgia next month at the state Capitol, where the young scouts plan on treating legislators to a milk-and-cookie reception.

These girls bearing gifts of Thin Mints and Samoas will also come packing an agenda. They want to see Savannah's towering suspension bridge renamed in honor of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in the coastal Georgia city more than a century ago.

The Girl Scouts saw an opening last fall when Savannah's city council formally asked state lawmakers during their 2018 session to strip the name of segregationist former Gov. Eugene Talmadge from the bridge. Georgia scouts are getting support from the Girl Scouts' national headquarters in New York, which has hired a lobbyist to help sway lawmakers in Atlanta.

Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Savannah, is on board with the switch. He said he plans to introduce a bill on Feb. 6, when Girl Scout leaders plan to bring as many as 300 scouts to the Capitol.

"I can't think of a name that could go on the bridge at the Savannah River that would mean more," Stephens said of Low, though he's not optimistic fellow lawmakers will agree if that means rescinding an honor bestowed on a former governor. "My opinion is chances of passage are slim to none."

Since 1956, the span crossing the Savannah River at the Georgia-South Carolina line has been named for Talmadge, a populist Democrat who served three terms between 1933 and 1942. Talmadge railed against the New Deal for offering blacks hope of economic parity with whites. He defended whites-only primary elections in Georgia. And he once proclaimed a black man's place was "at the back door with his hat in his hand."

In September, Savannah's city council unanimously called on the legislature to take Talmadge's name off the bridge. Mayor Eddie DeLoach sought the change following the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, as white supremacists rallied to protect Confederate statues. DeLoach said Savannah's bridge should "no longer be named for a man who divided us."

By law, only Georgia lawmakers can name or rename state roads and bridges. Girl Scouts leaders say it's an ideal chance to honor Low, who insisted Girl Scouts have a place for all girls regardless of race, religion or disabilities.

"All her life, Juliette sought to bring people together to solve problems and make the world a better place," Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo told The Associated Press by email. "And I can't think of a better symbol to her legacy than a bridge that connects people to others."

Low recruited the first troop of Girl Scouts over tea at her Savannah home in March 1912. In their first year, the girls learned to cook and care for babies. But Low also taught them how to shoot rifles and tie up burglars.

While Low began with only 18 Girl Scouts, 1.8 million are enrolled today. Acevedo said scouts from across the U.S. attending an October convention embraced their Savannah colleagues' cause. Roughly 10,000 Girl Scouts and alumnae have signed a petition asking lawmakers to rename the bridge for Low.

In December, Acevedo joined the leaders of Georgia's two Girl Scout councils at the state Capitol in Atlanta to meet with Gov. Nathan Deal. While the meeting focused on boosting girls' interest in science and math, the Girl Scout leaders also told the governor they want Low's name on the bridge.

"I don't know that he ever came out and said, 'I'm supportive of this,'" said Sue Else, chief executive of the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, who attended the meeting with Deal. "But he's been very supportive of Girl Scouts in general."

Meanwhile, Girl Scouts national leaders hired Savannah lobbyist Amy Hughes for the legislative session that began last week. Hughes was hired specifically to lobby lawmakers on the bridge issue, said Alice Hockenbury, the Girl Scouts' vice president for advocacy in Washington.

Stephens doubts fellow lawmakers will take action. A prior attempt to strip Talmadge's name from the bridge fell flat in 2013. He said it could be tougher this year, as the Republican-controlled legislature tries to avoid election-year backlash from GOP voters amid controversies over Confederate statues and memorials.

"As far as I can tell, just by the conversations I've had with people, they're going to run from anything that's extremely controversial," Stephens said.

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  • Stonecrusher

    Teach 'em young. These girls are parroting parents' rants and have no idea whether the issue is valid or not. The issue is another knee jerk reaction stemming from the Richmond statuary furor.

  • archer

    The girls don't even know that they support Planned Parenthood with some of their funds.
    Puppets of the left wing.

  • truth hurts

    Another case of political correctness gone wild. Next is the elimination of the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, there will only be Scouts made up of girls and boys lead by a LBGT leader.

  • StormWizard

    I think the people need to decide this. Some things shouldn't be decided by just a few politicians.

  • Captain Insanity

    I'll always buy a box of those Samoas!!

  • Melvin L. Cloyd

    During her life did she personally sponsor or create girl scout troops for Black and Latino girls?
    Under her leadership did Girl Scouts troops practice racism or end segregation and indorse integration?
    Remember folks this is the south and Low was a white middle class women.
    We need to know more about her part in segregation and civil rights before the bridge is named after her.

  • Publius2k

    "Girl Scouts leaders say it's an ideal chance to honor Low, who insisted Girl Scouts have a place for all girls regardless of race, religion or disabilities."

    Given that the Boy Scouts were sued for not allowing girls to join before they allowed it, isn't Low's (and the Girl Scouts') stance anti-inclusive?

  • FFunQ

    Musing here... With these renaming issues I think it's relevant to look at not just whether the person being honored would pass muster with modern values, but whether they're being honored specifically for unacceptable reasons. With Confederate generals for example, they're usually being honored specifically for their contribution to a white supremacist regime and treasonous cause, and honoring them is inappropriate. But most would agree a person like Thomas Jefferson, a slave holder, could rightly be honored for his great contributions while overlooking his shortcomings.

    Now Talmadge may have been an odious and unscrupulous person, and no Jefferson, but I assume he was being honored as Gov. of Georgia, not as a bigot and segregationist (of course one could argue those are one and the same for a leader of the Jim Crow south).

    I make no ultimate conclusion here, but I do think these issues are more complicated that some like to make them.

  • devilschild

    Wouldn't Samoa cookies be racist?

  • Leah

    I'm not a fan of name changes. The Sears Tower will always be the Sears Tower no matter how long it is named Willis Tower. But, since this is inevitable and the name of the Talmadge Bridge will be changed naming it after Juliette Gordon Lowe is a good idea.

  • JeanSC

    I was a Girl Scout when I was much younger. I'm still with them in this fight. They have an excellent argument.

  • helicohunter

    Seems like as good a person as any, but I suspect others will suggest their own heroes.

  • JDCreborn

    They have my support. Perfect opportunity to remove the name of a bigot and replace it with a name of someone who sought to do good.

  • Stonecrusher

    Nothing but hype based on today's social and economic situations. During the Depression and the New Deal, the plight of the blacks was such that the economic advantages would not have benefited very many.

  • Gerald Hemrick

    Thin mints!

  • Frank Goudy

    These kids know very little or nothing about political issues but are useful idiots for their liberal elite leadership.
    Just one more part of the hate Trump politics.

  • Guthrum

    "Low Bridge": that might just confuse some drivers, or ships.

  • Lee Thompson

    What a great exercise for the Girl Scouts to participate in. It's a worthy cause, and they learn about governance in the process. There may be some seeds sown for one of these young women to run for office in the future. Wishing you success, young ladies!