A meeting with mayoral candidates in a Georgia city admitted only black reporters, WTOC 11 first reported Wednesday.
The event, held at the Bolton Street Baptist Church, included two candidates, Van Johnson, a city alderman, and Louis Wilson, a repeat mayoral candidate. It was intended to get the black community to rally behind a single candidate to strengthen his or her prospects. Candidates have until August to declare for the race.
CBS affiliate WTOC 11 first reported one of its journalists had been turned away from the event in Savannah, Georgia. "We were not allowed to attend the meeting because of the race of the reporter we sent to cover it," they shared.
The meeting, publicized as a community meeting to support only one of Savannah's two African American mayoral candidates, also had the condition that only black members of the media could go inside the church where it was held.
The Associated Press noted that "television cameras and recording devices were also prohibited" in the church.
According to NBC Washington, another candidate, Regina Thomas, said she skipped the meeting due to its racial divisiveness. Thomas is a former Georgia state senator. She opted instead for bible study.
Johnson defended attending the segregated event in a statement. "I accepted this invitation as an opportunity to share my vision for a progressive Savannah," he said. "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."
According to the Savannah Morning News, Rev. Clarence Teddy Williams, owner of the Trigon Group, organized the event but declined to comment. The Morning News reported that former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson (D.) also attended the event.
The ballot for the mayoral race in Savannah, Ga. includes all candidates who meet the cutoff. The146,000 residents of the eastern Georgia city have been governed by Mayor Eddie DeLoach (R.), since 2015. He is the first white mayor in Savannah in twenty years.