"John Lewis, his only claim to fame was that he got conked on the head at the Pettus Bridge," a Georgia lawmaker said Thursday. "And he has milked that for 50 years—or he milked it for 50 years." Those comments, made on a radio show two weeks after the death of the civil rights icon, cost state Rep. Tommy Benton his committee chairmanship. House Speaker David Ralston, a fellow Republican, made the announcement Friday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Until then, Benton had led the House Retirement Committee. Ralston had taken another chairmanship from Benton in 2017 after he circulated an article, "The Absurdity of Slavery as the Cause of the War Between the States," to House members. Benton is a retired history teacher, per Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Benton made the comments in discussing a bipartisan drive he opposes to put a statue of Lewis in the US Capitol, in place of one of Alexander Hamilton Stephens. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, is remembered for a speech in which he said Thomas Jefferson's contention that slavery was an evil that would "pass away" was "fundamentally wrong." Benton also once said the Ku Klux Klan "was not so much a racist thing, but a vigilante thing to keep law and order." His comments about Lewis were "offensive and disgusting," Ralston said, adding. "Congressman John Lewis spent a lifetime of public service advancing equality for all." Benton is up for reelection in November. (Read more John Lewis stories.)