Georgia governor urged to suspend Jim Crow-era mask law

Politicians want the law lifted because studies show that wearing masks could save lives

Ku Klux Klan (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images) and N95 (Photo by Don MacKinnon/Getty Images)

It is against the law to wear a mask in public in Georgia.

The Jim Crow-era law was enacted to protect Black citizens from the Ku Klux Klan, but now state legislators are asking Gov. Brian Kemp to temporarily suspend the law to encourage people to wear masks to protect against the coronavirus.

READ MORE: Mississippi judge won’t block Jim Crow era election process

State Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Georgia Democratic Party, sent a letter to Kemp on April 10, urging him to temporarily suspend the 1951 law which makes it a misdemeanor for violators to wear a “mask, hood or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer,” in public places, according to The Hill.

Nazi Salute Ku Klux Klan thegrio.com

A member of the Ku Klux Klan salutes during American Nazi Party rally at Valley Forge National Park September 25, 2004 in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

While Georgia is under a state of emergency, Williams writes the law needs to be suspended, in part, to protect Black citizens from being racially profiled and questioned by officials.

“At a time when the Black community is overrepresented in COVID19 cases, we need to protect our communities and ensure that they will remain safe when trying to flatten the curve and save lives,” Williams wrote in the letter, according to The Hill.

The governor’s office is reviewing the request and state law, a Kemp spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), wearing a mask in public may mitigate the spread of coronavirus,” Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Kemp’s office, told the AJC. “We are reviewing state law to ensure there are no unnecessary obstacles to following this guideline.”

READ MORE: Jim Crow laws in Mississippi still exist to keep Blacks out of office

As Kemp’s office decides whether to temporarily lift the law, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has ordered Atlanta police not to enforce it after viewing a news report where police in Illinois forced two Black men to take off their masks while they shopped in Walmart.

The Georgia law currently exempts people who need to wear masks for their jobs, and also excuses public mask-wearing during holidays, athletic competition, theater productions and for civil emergencies.

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