SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) – After hundreds of Girl Scouts supporting the measure marched on the Georgia state capital, state lawmakers took up a bill Wednesday that would put the name of the group’s founder on a Savannah bridge, replacing the name of a white segregationist.
Rep. Ron Stephens introduced the bill honoring Savannah-bred Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low upon confirming earlier this year that the span known as the Gov. Eugene Talmadge Bridge was never officially christened as such by the state Legislature.
“They never got around to naming the bridge,” said Stephens, a Republican. “It never made it to the Senate, the governor’s desk, or the Department of Transportation.”
Stephens traded emails about the bridge with David Bundrick from the Georgia General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel after Savannah’s city council unanimously asked state lawmakers in September 2017 to strip the bridge of Talmadge’s name.
About a month earlier, a rally in support of Confederate statues by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended in the killing of one counter-protester.
Before Stephens’ bill headed to the House Committee this morning, the bill drew a den meeting in the Georgia state capital Tuesday by 400 Girl Scouts with their troop leaders and parents.
“They did a fantastic job,” Amy Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Georgia and Girl Scouts of the USA, said in an interview. “I’m also so impressed by how passionate and articulate these girls were. … It was really beautiful,” said Hughes, whose role was to help the girls understand the legislative process and how to connect with their legislators.”
Hughes noted that Bundrick’s email to Rep. Stephens should quell objections from Talmadge preservationists.
“There are some people who have philosophical objections because they see it as a renaming,” Hughes said. “But what we’ve seen with the documentation produced today, it’s a naming.”
Hughes also distilled the issue as “the city of Savannah wanting a new symbol for their community.”
“Low represents the living legacy of 50 million people who have been Girl Scouts,” Hughes added.
Stephens, a father of two girls and husband of a former Girl Scout, noted that Low’s name was chosen over other names that were proposed for the bridge that connects Savannah to South Carolina over the Savannah River.
“Some folks said Clarence Thomas,” he said. “The city of Savannah wanted to do the Savannah Bridge.
“But if you’re looking for a game-changer, a visionary, for someone with a backbone as wide as the Savannah River, then she’s our girl,” Stephens said of Low.
In a section of Savannah called the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District, tourists can visit a museum at the place where Low was born in 1860 as well as the carriage house that Low converted into the first Girl Scouts headquarters at a time in history when women couldn’t vote or own property.
“At that time, [women’s] success was dependent on how well they marry,” Stephen said. “Her idea was to create a girls’ club. The thought that she did it in the Deep South is a big deal. … She let black girls in, even though Low’s mother told her not to. … She’s a very prestigious woman and the time has come to do something of a monumental nature for her.”
Stephens also noted that most naming bills out of Georgia’s Department of Transportation honor men. “We typically don’t name monumental structures after prominent women,” said Stephens. “Most bills that come out of the Department of Transportation, most honor men. It’s time.”
Hughes noted that the full House must still vote on the bill if it passes the committee.
“It is a process but hopefully it will emerge that the bridge is named after Juliette Gordon Low,” she said. “This either happens by the end of March or it doesn’t.”
Hughes also called it encouraging to see how members of Congress reacted to the Girl Scouts press conference. “The girls received good feedback,” she said. “However, it’s a huge effort and there are a lot of unknowns in this process.”