Award Announcement

Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, Former South Carolina Governor David Beasley and Former Georgia State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr. Honored with John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

Boston, MA, May 12, 1003 — Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy today presented former Governor Roy Barnes (D) of Georgia, former Governor David Beasley (R) of South Carolina, and former State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr. (R) of Georgia with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes and former South Carolina Governor David Beasley were honored with the prestigious award for political courage for the decisions of conscience each man made when seeking to resolve his state’s divisive political debate over the public display of the Confederate battle emblem. Dan Ponder, Jr., a one-time Georgia State Representative, was honored with the Profile in Courage Award for his act of political and personal courage that led to the passage of Georgia’s first hate-crimes legislation.

“Today’s honorees’ devotion to our country’s fundamental values has been expressed in courageous deeds and words that are an example to all of us,” said Senator Kennedy. “We hope that this award will continue to encourage young men and women to enter public service and demonstrate their own dedication to high principle.”

“President Kennedy greatly admired those political leaders who had the courage to make decisions of conscience without fear of the consequences,” said Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “Governor Barnes and Governor Beasley demonstrated outstanding leadership in asking their constituents to reconsider the symbol of the Confederate battle emblem. Their courage in stepping forward to address this controversial and divisive issue should not go unrecognized.

“Georgia State Representative Dan Ponder proves that one voice can truly make a difference,” Ms. Kennedy continued. “By articulating his personal experience, and finding the courage to do so, he empowered others to act courageously and do the right thing. Today, his words against hate continue to inspire people around the globe. It is an honor to recognize and applaud these three outstanding individuals whose unselfish contributions to public service and courageous acts of leadership have advanced their states and enriched our nation.”

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to an elected official who has withstood strong opposition from constituents, interest groups or adversaries to follow what he or she believes is the right course of action. Past recipients of the award include former U.S. President Gerald Ford, U.S. Senator John McCain, U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, U.S. Representative John Lewis, California State Senator Hilda Solis, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and America’s public servants who responded to the tragic events of September 11.

The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. The Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday.

Throughout the South, the Confederate battle emblem continues to generate intense political conflict, pitting those who see it as a symbol of slavery and racism against those who see it as a tribute to southern tradition and history. During the past decade, several southern states have become embroiled in flag controversies, and a number of southern public officials have attempted in various ways to shrink or eliminate the presence of the Confederate emblem from state officialdom.

Former Governor Roy Barnes (D-Georgia)
In 1956, less than two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Georgia state legislature adopted a new state flag bearing the Confederacy battle emblem. In January 2001, Georgia Governor Roy Barnes sought to diminish the presence of the divisive symbol. He won the legislature’s approval for a new state flag, which would dramatically reduce the Confederate emblem’s visual presence on the flag. Barnes went ahead with the flag change despite the likelihood that it would alienate his rural white supporters, who his polls showed were vehemently opposed to the change by a margin of 3-1.

After the legislature adopted the new flag, those who were opposed to the change erupted in a fit of outrage at Barnes. According to news accounts, supporters of the Confederate battle emblem staged protests at his public appearances, disrupted meetings, and threatened his family, and even his life. Barnes’s opponent, state legislator Sonny Perdue, made the flag a central campaign issue and promised voters a public referendum on the new flag. While the flag controversy was not the only issue in the race, it was likely a decisive one and contributed to Barnes’s defeat in 2002.

Former Governor David Beasley (R-South Carolina)
Since the early 1960s, South Carolina flew the Confederate flag over its state house, not as a state flag but to some as a symbol of South Carolina’s history and to others as a symbol of defiance of the civil rights movement. In 1996, Governor Beasley was compelled to tackle the controversial flag issue. A series of church burnings and the racially motivated shooting of three black teenagers caused grave concern about racial division across the state. As a first step toward uniting South Carolinians, Governor Beasley delivered a televised speech in which he asked his fellow citizens to help pressure lawmakers to remove the flag.

He said: “I’m asking that we come together as a people, to honor and understand each other, to forge a ministry of reconciliation that extends to every citizen…The Bible tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is time for the races to compromise on the Confederate flag to show Judeo-Christian love that will bring the races together.”

Governor Beasley worked toward compromise, suggesting the flag, once removed from the dome, be placed by a Confederate memorial on state grounds. But he was met with hostility, protests, and lawsuits, it was immediate and extreme, and from those of his own party. During his term, the Confederate flag continued to wave above the statehouse and he was defeated by an opponent who pledged not to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse dome. But today, the Confederate flag has come down from the South Carolina statehouse, a change made possible by Governor Beasley’s first crucial call to South Carolinians for unity and tolerance.

In November 1996, two years into his first term as governor of South Carolina, Republican David Beasley addressed the state in a televised speech and called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House dome. In the spirit of compromise, he proposed that the flag be flown beside a Confederate soldiers’ monument in front of the capitol building, resurrecting a proposal that had died in the House two years before.

Campaigning for governor two years earlier, Beasley said he would keep the flag above the dome. His reversal split the South Carolina Republican Party in two and generated thousands of angry letters. “Keep the Flag, Ban Beasley” bumper stickers were widely circulated, characteristic of the outcry that followed. While Beasley was the Republican incumbent in a Republican state, who presided over a booming economy, many political observers noted that his campaign for re-election was not helped by his position on the flag. In 1998, Beasley sought a second term as governor but was defeated by Democrat Jim Hodges, who promised flag supporters he would not lead the charge to take down the flag.

Former State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr. (R- Georgia)
On March 16, 2000, the Georgia legislature was in a bitter debate over the proposed enactment of a hate-crimes law. The House had just voted 83-82 to shelve the bill when Representative Ponder, a conservative Republican from rural southwestern Georgia who might have been expected to mount a vigorous opposition to the bill, stood up and gave an impassioned speech defending it. He had told no one of his plans to support the legislation. Representative Ponder gave his fellow lawmakers a deeply personal account of his childhood rejection of a family caretaker because she was black. In his speech, he said, “Hate is all around us. It takes shape and form in ways that are somehow so small that we don't even recognize them to begin with, until they somehow become acceptable to us. It is up to us, as parents and leaders in our communities, to take a stand and to say loudly and clearly that this is just not acceptable…I pledged to myself…that never, ever again would I look in the mirror and know that I had kept silent and let hate or prejudice or indifference negatively impact a person's life, even if I didn't know them.” At the conclusion of the speech, the House, Republicans and Democrats alike, gave Representative Ponder two standing ovations and subsequently voted 116-49 to outlaw and punish all hate crimes. Georgia Governor Roy Barnes signed the measure into law at a synagogue scarred by swastika-painting vandals.

Described by one recipient as the “Nobel in Government,” the Profile in Courage Award is accompanied by a sterling-silver lantern representing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg, Inc. and crafted by Tiffany & Co.

Roy Barnes, David Beasley, and Dan Ponder, Jr. were chosen as recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s prestigious award for political courage by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, chairs the twelve-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund; Al Hunt, Executive Editor of the Wall Street Journal; U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut); Elaine Jones, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts); Paul G. Kirk, Jr., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; David McCullough, presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague. John Shattuck, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. Shattuck is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor and a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.

In selecting a recipient, the Profile in Courage Award Committee considers elected officials who have demonstrated the kind of political courage described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Kennedy wrote:

“The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people – faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but also elect men who will exercise their conscientious judgment – faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor and ultimately recognize right.”

Past recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award are former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliott, Sr. of Alabama; former U.S. Congressman Charles Weltner of Georgia; former Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker, Jr.; former Governor of New Jersey James Florio; U.S. Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas; former U.S. Congressman Michael Synar of Oklahoma; former Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin Cherubini; Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama Charles Price; Garfield County, Montana Attorney Nickolas Murnion; co-recipients U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin; California State Senator Hilda Solis; former U.S. President Gerald Ford; United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and former Palos Heights, Illinois Mayor Dean Koldenhoven. Special Profile in Courage Awards have been presented to the Irish Peacemakers – eight political leaders of Northern Ireland and the American chairman of the peace talks – in recognition of the extraordinary political courage they demonstrated in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement; legendary civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) for lifetime achievement; and America’s public servants who demonstrated extraordinary courage and heroism in response to the tragic events of September 11.

The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.


Further Information:
Ann Scanlon (617) 514-1662