Georgia mayoral race event bars non-black reporters from entering

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The organizers of a community meeting held in Savannah, Georgia on Wednesday evening to discuss the city’s upcoming mayoral race only allowed black reporters to attend.

Organizers of the meeting at the Bolton Street Baptist Church, which was put on by Rev. Clarence Teddy Williams, reportedly posted signs stating “Black press only” on the doors of the church.

At least two black reporters and the publisher of a local African-American newspaper were allowed inside, the Savannah Morning News reported. Television crews were also prohibited from entering.

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Williams did not return Fox News’ request for comment, but an advertisement for the meeting on the Facebook of the Trigon Group, a consulting firm Williams’ owners, states that the event is for “Black Media ONLY!”

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Van Johnson, a Savannah city councilman and one of three black mayoral candidates to have announced campaigns so far, attended the Wednesday meeting at Bolton Street Baptist Church. Johnson said afterward he relayed “my vision for an inclusive Savannah, a progressive Savannah.”

Asked by WTOC-TV about only black reporters being allowed inside, Johnson said: “It’s not my meeting. Again, I was asked to come give a statement, and so I came and I gave a statement.”

Johnson issued a revised statement on Thursday on Facebook, calling the organizer’s decision to ban certain journalists “unfortunate” and saying he expressed his concerns with them over their move.

“I have expressed my concerns to the organizers of this event as my history of service in this community has ALWAYS been one of inclusion, of partnership and of communication,” Johnson said in a statement. “While this decision of this group is unfortunate, I work toward the day when we trust each other enough to be inclusive in all of our gatherings.”

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Louis Wilson, who says he’s running for mayor again after an unsuccessful 2015 campaign, also attended the meeting.

Regina Thomas, a former Georgia state senator and one of the incumbent mayor’s black challengers, skipped the church gathering Wednesday. She said the meeting appeared divisive and was scheduled too early in the campaign. The deadline for candidates to sign up for the race is Aug. 23. Thomas said she also had a scheduling conflict: her Bible study group met Wednesday night.

The Wednesday meeting in Savannah was held to try to unite the city’s black community behind a single candidate for mayor in the Nov. 5 election.

Mayor Eddie DeLoach is seeking re-election this fall. He became Savannah’s first white mayor in 20 years after winning the 2015 campaign. Elections for Savannah’s top office are nonpartisan, meaning all candidates who qualify end up on the November ballot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.