Official who called John Lewis a racist pig visits civil rights museum

A handful of Gwinnett County government officials visited Atlanta's National Center for Civil and Human Rights on Tuesday afternoon, exactly a month after Commissioner Tommy Hunter called civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig" on Facebook.

Hunter and his fellow commissioners, as well as various department heads and the county’s police and fire chiefs, were among the delegation to museum, which pays homage to Lewis in several places.

Hunter, who has faced calls for his resignation and is scheduled to meet with the Gwinnett NAACP later Tuesday night, appeared to look at exhibits intently during the guided two-hour tour. He declined, however, to speak with reporters afterward.

The commissioner has apologized for his “choice of words” in the Lewis post but has said little else publicly. Seth Weathers, a consultant who has acted a spokesman for Hunter, has repeatedly said the commissioner has no plans to resign.

Board Chairman Charlotte Nash did speak Tuesday. She has previously said Hunter’s controversial comments highlighted the importance of the county reaching out to diverse constituents, but downplayed any special significance of the timing of the museum visit.

“I think it was important under any circumstance,” Nash said. “When somebody invites you and went to as much trouble as they obviously were willing to go to, to make it easy for us to visit, it was a great opportunity and we would’ve been foolish to turn it down.”

The visit was the product of an invitation from the museum, Nash said last week. The museum has not commented on the timing of the visit, or said if the invitation was a direct result of Hunter’s comments.

Hunter wrote his Facebook post on Jan. 14, amid a well-publicized feud between Lewis and then-president-elect Donald Trump, sparked when Lewis called Trump's presidency "illegitimate." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published screenshots of Hunter's post — in which he also referred to Democrats as "Demonrats" and a "bunch of idiots" — and others on Jan. 16.

The outcry gained momentum quickly. Protesters have packed the three Board of Commissioners meetings that have taken place since, speaking against Hunter for hours during public comment periods.

Fellow board members have denounced Hunter's Facebook comments, and Nash personally sent an apology letter to Lewis. Multiple groups, including the Georgia NAACP and the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, have called for Hunter to resign.

An ethics complaint filed last week claims Hunter violated several parts of the county's ethics ordinance.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights opened in 2014 and highlights the American Civil Rights Movement — which Lewis, and Atlanta, were large parts of — as well as the global movement for human rights. Exhibits include an interactive lunch counter that re-creates a 1960s sit-in, many homages to Martin Luther King Jr. and a life-size re-creation of a Freedom Riders bus.

Lewis was a Freedom Rider and, among other contributions to the movement, led the Selma, Alabama, march and demonstration that would become known as “Bloody Sunday,” having his skull fractured in the chaos.

“Having a better sense of the violence that was involved with many of the events, that makes me appreciate in a different way the courage of those that were involved,” Nash said.

Nicole Moore, the center’s manager of education and museum content, led Tuesday’s tour. She did not directly reference the Hunter situation but, as the gathering came to a close, encouraged county officials to “create change that we’ll hear about in a good way.”

Hunter agreed last month to attend the Gwinnett NAACP's next general membership meeting, which happened to also fall on Tuesday.

Read full coverage of that meeting, which quickly devolved, on myAJC.com.