Former Atlanta fire chief suggests slavery was part of God’s plan for America

A former Atlanta fire chief who stirred debate with his homophobic views a decade ago is back in the spotlight this week, following a speech in which he said it was God’s divine plan that “allowed” Africans to be brought to America as slaves.

During a Black History Month celebration Monday hosted by the Georgia Department of Labor, Kelvin J. Cochran, who is Black, took the podium to explain how his religious views conform to the history of the country’s founding. In an unlisted YouTube video, Cochran starts his patriotic speech saying that America “has been a part of God’s divine plan from the beginning of time.” Then, midway into his remarks he discusses slavery, alluding that everything in  American history is part of “His story.”

“Slavery in America did not catch God by surprise,” Cochran said. “In his sovereignty, God … allowed Africans to be brought to America as slaves. Africa was on the eve of social, spiritual and economic catastrophe and famine — still going on today. So, He brought 6 million Africans to America through the Middle Passage as slaves.”

Cochran compared African slavery to slavery in Israel, saying, “Just as it was God’s divine plan to enslave the nation of Israel,” God’s sovereignty “allowed Africans to be brought to America in bondage.” He also cited a verse from the book of Genesis, when God told Abraham his descendants would be enslaved and mistreated for 400 years. He pointed out too that slave masters were adamant about teaching slaves about Christianity, and that enslaved people would gather outside church houses to eavesdrop on the worship sermons.

In 2013, Cochran, who was fire chief at the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, gave his subordinates a copy of his self-published Bible study book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?,” which included homophobic comments such as that gay people and those who have sex outside marriage are “naked,” wicked and ungodly sinners. He also called homosexuality a “sexual perversion“ and compared it to bestiality. 

In October 2014, an assistant fire chief raised concerns over the book and the following month Cochran was suspended for 30 days without pay for failing to get approval or provide proper notice ahead of the publication of the book.  Following his suspension, Cochran waged a campaign claiming that he had been fired for his religious beliefs, which ultimately led to his termination in January 2015.

In October 2018, the Atlanta City Council voted to pay Cochran $1.2 million to settle his lawsuit against the city and former Mayor Kasim Reed over his dismissal. Cochran currently serves as a senior fellow and vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative and Christian-based organization that represented him in his lawsuit against the city of Atlanta.

Toward the end of his speech, Cochran acknowledged figures like Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, which he said were the reason why he could “stand up here and tell my story” and “celebrate African American history month.” 

“Here’s the bottom line — we all came here on different boats, but now we’re in the same boat,” he said. “And if we can only quieten our souls long enough, to look at the sovereignty of God in our history, his goodness and his mercies, we would all cry out together, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.’”

“I thank God for America, and I thank God for American history,” he added.

He concluded his speech with lyrics from the song “This Land Is Your Land.”

The Georgia Department of Labor and Alliance Defending Freedom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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